Nothing Comes from Nothing
A Swan Queen Story
Author: parakitty (aka. ladydameon)
Co-Author / Beta: Lain Stardust
Summary: Things don't go as planned for anyone in Storybrooke after Emma casts a seemingly simple and harmless spell to help her find the reclusive Regina.
General Genre: Fantasy Adventure / Romance Drama
Rating: T, until otherwise indicated
Pairing(s): Emma Swan/Regina Mills (eventually), with touches of Snow White/Charming (shudders) and dashes of Rumpelstiltskin/Belle as well as Rumpelstiltskin/Cora, perhaps hints of Ruby/Belle with mentions of Emma/Neal and Graham/Regina.
Spoilers: The AU timeline diverges at the end of The Outsider in Season Two. In the Name of the Brother has metamorphosed into a new animal. However, basic knowledge of the episode would be helpful as certain scenes/events are casually inferred and referenced.
General Disclaimer(s): We, the authors of this particular work of fiction, claim no profit or protégé, and mean no disregard to any reviewing or sovereign party. By extension and addition, we mean no disrespect to anyone associated with the development or portrayal of the fictional characters contained within this work or the universe in which they inhabit. This work of fiction's primary purpose remains free, personal entertainment as well as the possible entertainment of others.
Author's Note: This story includes visual canon at our discretion, and as our story shall enter the realm of AU, notable changes and tweaks will be made as necessary to both the show's plot and mythos. Regardless of how the show continues to develop, we reserve the right to completely ignore or include the events from the show as it progresses. As a special note, the concept for this story developed during February 2013. The actual production was delayed for some misguided hope that OUAT would somehow "fix" itself. Apparently, that didn't happen, and I gave into the pull of writing fan fiction for it.
Author's Note—Emma Swan: We don't particularly care for how Emma has been degraded to a plot pawn during the course of Season 2. Since TPTB have systematically stripped her of her powers and identity, it's our goal to restore the character to her potential glory! Although, we saw a slight return of Season 1 Emma during The Evil Queen. Also, no more matching outfits with mommy, but Mary Margaret may still try.
Dropping fifty cents into a very dated coffee vending machine, Emma pressed her selection for a cappuccino since the hot chocolate was usually horrid. She stuffed her hands in her coat pockets while waiting for the clear plastic door to open. Things have got to get better, she thought, watching the dark brown, steaming hot liquid pour into the all-too-thin paper cup. She'd only been back in Storybrooke a few days, and crazy stuff was already happening!
Luckily, the sheriff managed to avert any further disasters by having the hospital staff hide Captain Hook, keeping him temporarily safe from Gold's wrath.
"Finally," Emma muttered as the door flipped open. Quickly, she grabbed her cup, set it down on the condiments' counter and promptly dumped six sugars and four creamers into it. Snapping on the flimsy plastic lid, she took her cappuccino and left the vending area to talk to the now conscious Greg Mendell.
Shuffling towards the main elevator, Emma was tired and cold. She hated being cold. Catching her reflection in the closing, mirrored elevator doors, she regarded her haggard appearance and thanked her parents for it. Lifting the cup to her lips, she realized two things: the cappuccino was still too hot and everyone was extremely agitated—about everything.
Apparently, Ruby had managed to avert Whale's imminent mental crisis. Mary Margaret wholeheartedly believed Regina and Cora were going to destroy them all in some fantastically gruesome way. Leroy's moral compass needed some serious recalibration. And David was just too psyched over the change of pace to focus.
There were some odd noises as the elevator finally reached the appropriate floor. Emma dared another tentative sip of her cappuccino, pleased it had cooled enough to drink. She stopped briefly to inquire about Mr. Mendell's room number at the nurses' station. Outwardly, the sheriff was the epitome of a cool professional, one that demanded respect, but inside, she was still agitated with her assuming parents. Reaching the door, Emma shook her head, downing the rest of the cappuccino with a wince. She knocked on the glass door twice and entered.
"Mr. Mendell," she greeted as she tossed her empty paper cup in the trash by the door and introduced herself as she approached the man in his bed. "The doctor said you were capable of answering a few questions." Emma had managed to glimpse the preliminary crime scene report which had been put together by one of the volunteers.
"Sheriff, things are still a bit fuzzy," Greg said with hesitancy. He hadn't heard much about the accident, but he knew a man and a woman had been injured.
Nodding, Emma pulled out a small notebook. "I still need a statement, Mr. Mendell." She stared at the stranger. She couldn't help but wonder if he was part of some grand scheme or master plan. Arching her eyebrow, the sheriff prompted him again for information.
"Um," Greg said, growing flustered. "I was driving. I was starting to feel tired, but I wanted to get here. Then, there was a man in the road. I couldn't stop in time, and I hit him." He paused, glancing at the nurses' movements outside his glass door.
"Uh huh," Emma said. She jotted down some notes, realizing Greg wasn't giving her the whole story—a story she was, unfortunately, going to have to hash out with Gold. Perhaps she should give Greg a little incentive to cooperate. "You do realize that texting and driving in the state of Maine is illegal." She held her smirk at his obvious gulp.
"Yes, Sheriff, I . . ," he stuttered for a moment, "I was updating a friend on my travels. She worries."
Finishing her note, Emma saw a big, fat ticket in the man's future. "Is there anything else you would like to add?"
"Not at this time, Sheriff."
"Alright," Emma said, pulling a business card out of her notebook. Handing it to Greg, she added, "If you remember anything else, please feel free to call me."
Sedately, Greg took the card. After glancing at it, he placed it on his tray. Right before the sheriff was about to open the door, he asked, "The man I hit, is he alright?"
Smirking, Emma nodded. "Mr. Jones will be alright, Mr. Mendell. So, I don't think you'll have to worry about a vehicular man slaughter charge." After a beat to appreciate the paling of Greg's features, she added, "Since the crime scene report hasn't hit my desk, yet, I'm unable to formally relay or inform you of any possible charges at this time."
"Of course, Sheriff."
Nodding, Emma said as she left, "I'll be in touch." She frowned as Greg scrambled for his cellphone.
Exiting the elevator on the ground floor, Emma barely managed to remain impassive as she saw her parents waiting for her by the information desk. That agitation she had felt towards them earlier was coming back with a vengeance. She had longingly hoped for a hot shower, a quick meal and perhaps a few hours of sleep before dealing with them—or anyone, for that matter. Who the heck was with Henry? she wondered.
David had perked up upon noticing Emma, causing Mary Margaret to spin around. She smiled brightly and immediately asked, "What did he say?"
Arching an eyebrow at their eagerness, the sheriff ignored the question and asked her deputy, "Has Ruby had any luck, yet?" She stopped in front of the couple.
"She hasn't called in," David said.
"Accident site cleared?" Emma inquired.
"Leroy and Michael just got the car to the garage."
"Did you get that press release typed up?" The sheriff frowned as the deputy slowly blinked. She had hoped David would've been able to get it done before The Mirror went to press. They'd just talked about it several hours ago. The citizens of Storybrooke needed to be made aware that a stranger from the outside world was in town and to be subtly reminded to behave. Crossing her arms, Emma sighed, "I need you to get that done ASAP."
"Emma," Mary Margaret interrupted, "what did he say?"
"Nothing important, but he's holding back. It might be best to let Mr. Mendell simmer in his own juices for a few days and see what he does." If Emma played her cards right, she was confident that Greg Mendell would be running for the interstate by the time he was discharged. She sighed and asked, "How's Belle?"
Mary Margaret shook her head. "Stable but confused and very frightened." Pausing, she glanced between her daughter and David, and asked, "What are we going to do about Cora?"
Emma's brow furrowed. "What can we do about Cora? Our last encounter with her wasn't one I'd like to repeat any time soon." She shuddered at the memory of Cora's hand around her heart.
"We need to find Regina. If they team up, Storybrooke is in for a whole lot of trouble," the school teacher insisted as she instinctively snuggled closer to David. "There's no telling what they'd be capable of."
Wrapping a supportive arm around his wife, the deputy boldly proclaimed, "We'll find them and deal with them."
"How, exactly?" the sheriff asked, irritated. "We haven't been able to find Regina for days, and she has a home here. How are we going to find Cora?" She crossed her arms. "And even if we do find Cora, how are we going to deal with her?"
Mary Margaret's eyes sparkled. "We can ask the dwarves to construct cells deep in the abandoned mine, like the one that held Rumpelstiltskin in our land." She didn't wait for Emma to respond. The idea was just too perfect and such a wonderful solution. "I can go to Mother Superior and ask her for help!"
David smiled proudly.
Emma wanted to smack her head into the nearest wall. "In case it escaped your notice, the magic fairy ball thing didn't work on Regina."
"Only because she saw it coming," interjected Mary Margaret. "Cora won't be expecting it."
Pursing her lips, the sheriff said with a drawl, "Yeah, I somehow doubt much gets past Cora." Taking a deep breath, Emma decided it was time to get her maverick parents in check. "Look, we all have a lot of work to do. We can't just drop our responsibilities to go off and play hero." Quickly, she held up her hands to forestall the impending argument. "Cora is lying low, for now. Let's leave it that way." Giving her parents a pointed stare, she continued, "So what I need is for my deputy to get that press release to the newspaper before it goes to press and to man the station. Also, Henry will be up in a few hours to get ready for school."
Emma almost cocked an eyebrow at their collective sigh. She hated to be the responsible one, but at least it explained her occasional devil-may-care attitude.
Marginally content that she had waylaid her parents' heroic tendencies, Emma readjusted her hat and jacket and pulled on her gloves.
"What are you going to do?" Mary Margaret asked softly.
"I am going to join Ruby and look for Regina," Emma said, tugging her jacket down. "Then, in the morning, I'm going to get a statement from Gold." With a nod, she turned and headed out the main entrance, not caring to drag out this conversation any longer with her parents. "Keep me updated!" she called over her shoulder before the automatic doors closed.
"What can I do for you, Sheriff?" Gold asked as Emma entered his shop. He carefully snapped shut the box containing Cora's gift and made his way to the back display case.
Honestly, he'd expected the sheriff hours ago, given the circumstances. However, he had more pressing matters to attend to and resigned himself to get this over with as quickly as possible. Yet, his disinterest regarding the upcoming conversation didn't prohibit him from noticing Emma Swan's tired frustration.
"I came by to get your statement about what happened last night at the town border on Route 6," the sheriff said, pulling her gloves off and stuffing them in her pockets. Slowly, she unzipped her bulky jacket and removed her notebook from an interior pocket. Emma flipped back a few pages and looked at Gold expectantly with a cocked eyebrow and pursed lips.
"I believe you already know what transpired," Gold said with a subdued bite in his tone.
Not wanting to waste any more time, Emma slowly followed Gold who now stood behind the backmost display case. "Look," she snapped, her patience long gone after hours trekking around Storybrooke, "I don't have time to play mind games or wade through emotional minefields of past grudges. I need to know what happened, now." The sheriff paused and added, "We could always take this down to the station."
Gold merely narrowed his eyes at the savior. But before Emma could stomp about like a bull and carryout her threat, he said, "I was attempting to leave Storybrooke, but Hook showed up and shot Belle. She fell over the line. I barely managed to get her back across before the stranger's car crossed the border—well over the speed limit, I might add." There was honest sadness and regret in his eyes. He'd never intended for Belle to be hurt.
Emma nodded as she jotted the story down. She frowned as she stared at him. "Why were you attempting to leave town?" The sheriff just needed collaboration of the story. She added a special note to hit Greg Mendell with an extra fine for speeding.
Hook had already spilled the vague details of their twisted history over a woman. In a world without justice, the captain's vendetta almost seemed righteous, until an innocent was knowingly injured. Sadly, there was no way of knowing if Belle, or Sneezy for that matter, would ever get their memories back.
"That is none of your concern," Gold said. He turned away with a dismissive wave of his free hand.
"Maybe not, and frankly, I really don't care. So, you can either answer my questions and I'll keep it to myself..." Emma trailed off until Gold cut a sideways look at her. "Or," she drawled, "I'll let it slip to a bunch of caged fairytale characters that Rumpelstiltskin has a potion that'll let them cross the town line." Pulling a small evidence bag out of another interior coat pocket, the sheriff set the small, clear vial on the counter between them. "That'll come in handy as more and more strangers start noticing this quaint seaside town."
Staring at the vial, they both knew it would be utter chaos if anyone found out.
Quickly, Gold turned back to the sheriff and said, "I was going to go look for my son." He reached for the evidence bag, but Emma safely tucked it back in her coat. Eventually, he knew the Savior would figure it all out. But today, he wasn't interested in feeding her bread crumbs as there was no benefit to it. "May I have the vial?" Gold asked holding out his hand. "Please?"
"It's evidence," Emma quickly countered, leaning against the display case. She smirked at Gold's slight frown. "However, I'd be willing to trade it."
"I'm surprised, Sheriff. Surely your parents have warned you away from making deals with me, by now." Gold commented slyly. His eyes, however, shone a tad too brightly, betraying his obvious interest.
"Help me find Regina," Emma said, her smirk morphing into a frown at Gold's amused chuckle. It was a risk to ask and would severely tip her hand, but what other option did she have at this point?
"Miss Lucas hasn't managed to sniff her out, yet?" Gold didn't even have to deliberate the trade. Giving a long-suffering sigh, he motioned the sheriff to follow him to the back of the shop. "The werewolf shouldn't feel too bad. Regina always had a peculiar talent for not drawing attention to herself, when necessary."
Something about the comment didn't sit quite right with Emma, but she quickly pushed the thought aside. She needed to focus on the here and now, unless she wanted to get burned by dealing with Gold. Plus, she still owed the man a favor. She silently watched as the pawnbroker gathered up ingredients to what she assumed was a locator spell. She yelped, caught off guard when he unceremoniously yanked out several strands of her hair and stuffed them in a clear plastic baggy with some dark brown hair already present in it. Quickly, he tossed the hair and various other items in a small, brown paper sack.
"Wait," Emma interrupted as Gold began rattling off instructions for a spell, "you're not going to do it?"
"I'm not the one looking for Regina, Dearie. You are." He held out the small package to the sheriff. "The vial, if you please."
Slowly, Emma removed the evidence bag from her jacket, warning bells going off as his brusque attitude shifted to pleasantly accommodating. "So, this will really work? I follow your instructions and I'll be able to find Regina?" She handed over the vial while taking the spell bag.
"Most definitely," Gold said softly, carefully setting the vial on the worktable.
"Okay. Thanks . . , I think," Emma said hesitantly, turning to leave the pawn shop. In hind sight, the sheriff realized she should've asked a heck of a lot more questions. But then again, she was new to this magic stuff and very tired.
In the safety of her hidden rooms under the family vault, Regina sighed with disappointment. Storybrooke was indeed full of idiots. She glanced at the extreme costumes from another life on display. If only she could muster the will, this pathetic town would disappear in a wave of flame and fury. Now, however, the hurt and anger that had driven her for so long was replaced with a profound tiredness. Like many times before, Regina had failed, but for the first time, she doubted her resilience to continue.
Her self-analysis was cut short as she felt a familiar and unwelcome presence enter the cemetery. Cora had finally decided to seek her out.
Slipping out of a secret passage, Regina effortlessly maneuvered around the stacks of crates and scattered trunks. She noted how many of them belonged to her mother and realized that everything that was hers would most likely have to be moved, depending on how this encounter ended. Stepping out of the mausoleum, Regina saw Henry a few yards away, and for a brief moment, she dared hope.
"Manipulation suits you, Mother," the former mayor evenly quipped, hiding her disappointment at the obvious ploy. Must the same dance be on constant repeat? "How did you get through?"
An ugly smirk marred the boy's face before he was enveloped in a purple cloud. Cora emerged, slightly impressed by Regina's quick deduction. "Determination; I had to see you." She walked slowly toward her daughter. Her smile softened when Regina didn't react. "I needed to tell you that I know why you sent me through the looking glass, and I know why you tried to have me killed." Cora paused, reaching out to her daughter. "And it's . . . it's alright."
"I think it's not alright," Regina snapped as she shied away from her mother and the crypt, never taking her eyes off her. "You framed me for the cricket."
Frowning, Cora seized her attempt to corral her daughter. "Only temporarily, so you could see what these people really think of you." Sighing, she said, "I needed you to be receptive. I didn't want you to reject me, not again."
"You are the most manipulative…." Somehow, Regina managed to hold her tongue as the familiar burn of anger returned. Attacking her mother had always proved futile and costly. Her shoulders sagged a little. Exhausted by her rapidly changing emotions, she absently admitted, "I'm already broken, Mother."
"Oh sweetheart," Cora whispered, taking a bold step toward Regina again and latching onto her vulnerability like a leech. "I love you. I just . . . I've always shown it in all the wrong ways." She could see her efforts were paying off. Pressing on now that she was almost within arm's length, Cora continued, "I should've never made you marry Leopold."
Regina couldn't help it. She broke eye contact as tears threatened to fall.
Sensing the timing was right, Cora struck with her usual precision. "I just want us to start over."
Immediately, Regina was flooded with anger and resentment—at herself, her mother and everything else. She had been trying so hard to be worthy of her son. "I don't see that happening, Mother." She paused before turning her back on Cora and walking away. "Come with me; we're going to town."
"It's the middle of the night," Cora scoffed, unmoving.
"I don't care." Regina gritted her teeth. "We'll wake them up—Emma and Henry and the two idiots—and you can tell them what you did."
Sighing, Cora still refused to follow but called after her daughter. "Taking me to be pilloried by the town might gain you some points, but as long as Emma and her parents are here, he's not really yours." She smirked when Regina stopped walking. "You've been too bad for far too long, and now they see you as nothing but a snake."
Her mother was right, as usual. But somewhere, buried deep down inside, Regina found the strength to continue walking away and not give in to the temptation and false promises her mother presented her. She wanted to lash out and fight, to give in to all her rage. But it would serve no constructive purpose, only leaving this town full of idiots defenseless against Cora and dependent on Rumpelstiltskin.
Cora frowned at her daughter's retreating back as it disappeared into the darkness. "I meant everything I said," she called out. "I am sorry." She sneered when her words failed to reel Regina back. Her eyes narrowed as she glared into the night. Her daughter had grown a backbone, after all.
Once her mother had left in a cloud of purple smoke, Regina sighed and turned around. "You can come out now, Miss Swan." She watched as the sheriff climbed out of her hiding space behind a large tombstone.
"You're one hard person to find, Regina." Emma brushed the dirt and grass off her pants, hiding her relief at Cora's departure.
"Perhaps I prefer it that way," the former mayor said, once again leaving. "I wouldn't linger, Miss Swan. Mother is bound to return."
Glancing up from picking stray bits of grass off her jacket, Emma quickly trotted after the illusive woman. "Wait," she said. Once in step with Regina, she quickly continued, "We've been looking for you."
"I'm well aware," Regina sighed, stopping in between the rows of headstones. Turning she gave the sheriff an exasperated look and asked, "What is it that you want?"
"Archie's alive," Emma blurted. Her eyes sparkled with the news.
"I know," Regina said flatly. When the sheriff failed to add anything further, she resumed walking to her car. She had to reach her other hideout before Cora returned to investigate the crypt again.
Huffing, Emma blocked Regina's path, earning an austere glare. She took a deep breath and looked Regina in the eyes. "I'm sorry," she said clearly. "I should have trusted my instincts, not the memories of a Dalmatian."
Cocking an eyebrow, Regina was curious to see where this particular conversation went, at least for now.
Taking silence as acceptance, the sheriff trudged forward. "I need your help."
"I think not," the former mayor quietly scoffed. "In case it escaped your keen notice, I have enough problems to deal with, no thanks to you." She had said no to her mother this time, but how much longer could she actually hold out? Or how much longer before she was forced into submission?
Letting the despair and desperation through, Emma pleaded. "Please, we—I can't do this alone." It was pure dumb luck that she and Mary Margaret had survived their last encounter with Cora. Unlike her cocky mother, the sheriff didn't think they'd be so fortunate the next time.
For a moment, the heartfelt plea appealed to Regina's deeply buried, compassionate nature. The moment of weakness passed as her sense of self-preservation kicked in once more. "No." With that, she quickly sidestepped the dumbfounded Emma. The benefits simply did not outweigh the risks of getting any more involved than she already was.
Irritated, Emma whipped around and grabbed Regina's wrist. Her words of frustration were immediately forgotten as both women were encapsulated by a blue flash of light and then promptly knocked off their feet. The sheriff blinked a few times as she tried to stop the world from spinning.
"What did you do?" hissed Regina as she struggled to stand. Failing twice, she crawled to a nearby tombstone and used it for leverage. Glancing over at Emma, who was still flopping about on the ground, she scowled at the apparent magical incompetence.
"What the hell was that?" the sheriff slurred, still unable to stand.
Not answering, Regina took a wobbling step away and then another. She had to get out of there immediately. No doubt, the inexplicable magical surge would draw unwanted attention. On her fourth step away from Emma, Regina was hit with overwhelming pain. She couldn't stop her cry of agony as she dropped to her knees. Gasping, she fell backwards onto the ground. As the sudden pain ebbed, Regina glanced back at Emma who had curled into a fetal position, whimpering.
Crawling to the sheriff, Regina shook Emma's shoulder roughly. "Get up," she ordered. "We have to get out of here, now!" As much as it would please her to leave the savior to entertain Cora, the former mayor was quickly suspecting the worst.
Together, they stood and helped each other to the police cruiser hidden behind the short, brick wall surrounding the Storybrooke cemetery. Roughly, Regina shoved the sheriff in the front passenger's seat of the car.
"Give me your keys," the former mayor demanded as she climbed in the driver's side.
"Why do you get to drive?" Emma asked, absently handing over the keys. Fuzzy or not, she understood Regina's urgency.
"Because you're still drooling, Sheriff," Regina said, starting the car and slamming it into drive. She hit the accelerator hard enough to send bits of gravel flying before the tires found asphalt.
The sheriff struggled to get her seatbelt buckled before she passed out again.
Infrequently, Emma would regain consciousness long enough to realize they were still driving. As Regina pulled the cruiser off the main road and onto an overgrown forest trail, the sheriff absently rubbed her eyes.
The car creaked and groaned from rolling over dips covered by dead leaves and fallen branches. Occasionally, a branch would scrape along the roof or side of the car.
Reaching their destination, Regina put the car in park and turned off the engine. She handed Emma the keys.
Absently stuffing the keys in her front coat pocket, she asked, "Why'd you bring us to the wishing well?"
"The well's magic will mask us, but we shouldn't linger long." Regina glanced out the windows, surveying the moonlit forest. She debated how much information would be prudent to share. As the cold crept into the vehicle, she pulled her leather gloves out of a pocket. Slipping them on, she said sternly, "I need to know exactly what you did, Miss Swan."
"I did a locator spell," Emma said pointing down at the open ashtray. Her brows furrowed as the former mayor yanked the tray off its track and sniffed the remaining contents. She winced as Regina flipped on the overhead light without warning then was light blinded when it was just as abruptly shut off.
Regina shoved the tray back into place. Crossing her arms, she continued to stare out the windshield at the wishing well. "I assume you went to Rumpelstiltskin for your spell."
"Yeah, I wasn't expecting the knockback as a reward for finding you, though," Emma muttered, her mind finally beginning to clear. She shivered as the temperature continued to drop in the car's cabin. "What was with that, anyway?"
"You've been duped, Miss Swan." Regina scowled. Glaring at the sheriff, she said, "I assume you didn't think to ask any questions about the spell. At least tell me what he wanted in exchange." What is this torment worth to the imp, she wondered.
"Exchange?" Emma sputtered as she thought back to early this morning. God, it felt like so long ago. "He didn't ask for anything," she admitted quietly. Her brows furrowed in concentration. Damn, she was tired and probably had a concussion. "No wait, I traded him a small vial I found at the accident at the town's border." The sheriff was uncertain how much detail to divulge, not wanting to end up on Gold's bad side.
However, her worry was for naught as Regina simply nodded.
"You knew what it was?" Emma found her fourth wind since this whole debacle started. She unbuckled her seatbelt and twisted to face Regina. Why did she constantly feel left out of the loop?
"He's been concocting it for weeks, Dear," the former mayor said, bored. "It worked, too." She almost felt pity for the manipulative scoundrel—so close to his goal. Now that she would be stuck with the frustrating sheriff for the foreseeable future, she decided to explain. "This all started during your sojourn in the Enchanted Forest. He tested it a few days ago on Smee then promptly transformed him into a rat when it worked."
Halfheartedly, Regina had attempted to catch Smee the rat but to no avail. The wayward rodent was lost in the bowels of Storybrooke until he chose to approach someone.
"No one reported him missing," Emma whispered. How could no one notice? How could no one care?
"No one would. That's why Gold picked him as a test subject." Regina glanced over at the distraught sheriff. "It was unfortunate, but a worse fate could have befallen him." She sighed at Emma's horrified look. "Someone of Smee's particular talents, I assume, would take full advantage of his current situation." Opening the car door, the former mayor slowly climbed out of the vehicle, careful of the distance between her and Emma. "We, however, have more pressing matters." Locking it, she slammed the driver's side door and walked to the front of the car.
Hesitantly, Emma followed suit. "What do you mean?"
"We will discuss it in length somewhere else, but we can't stay here any longer, Miss Swan." Regina reached out to grasp Emma's elbow.
Taking a step back, the sheriff asked, "Where are we going?"
"I'm not going back to that god forsaken forest ever again," Emma proclaimed stepping back again, bumping into the car.
Rolling her eyes, Regina pursed her lips and said, "My home, here in Storybrooke."
"Oh," Emma mouthed. "Will it be safe from Cora?" In that moment, she realized Mary Margaret was right. Cora was much worse than Regina ever thought of being. And that scared her.
"Not indefinitely," the former mayor said softly.
"What about Henry?" the sheriff asked with apparent fear. "We can't let Cora get a hold of him. She knows about him."
"He's safe with your parents, for the moment," Regain said, again reaching for Emma's elbow.
"I should call Mary Margaret." The savior's gloved hands fumbled to get her cellphone out of her pocket. "Tell her what's going on."
"I would advise against it," Regina said through gritted teeth as Emma stepped out of reach again.
"How long is this going to take?" Emma glanced up before dialing Mary Margaret, missing what the former mayor said.
Having lost what precious patience she did have, Regina growled in frustration before snatching the phone from the sheriff and turning it off. "We don't have time for this, Emma!" Roughly, she slapped the phone back into Emma's hand, ignoring the look of surprise as it quickly shifted to anger. "If the spell you cast is what I think it is, you've bound us—permanently! And how, precisely, do you think your idiot parents will react to that?"
Regina hoped that Gold wouldn't be that cruel, but the man knew how to hold a grudge.
"What?" Emma whispered, face draining of color.
"Please, Miss Swan," the former mayor said calmly, having regained her composure. "We have to get out of here."
Not knowing what else to do, Emma took that fateful step forward. As Regina gripped her elbow, she asked, "What are we going to do?"
"Research," Regina said before they disappeared in a cloud of purple smoke.
Hours later, Emma sat on a stool at the former mayor's kitchen island while absently playing with her cellphone, which needed to be charged soon. She watched Regina pour two cups of coffee from a French press. Why couldn't the woman own a coffee pot like everyone else?
"Can't I call them after a nap?" she moaned, dropping her head on the counter as Regina set a cup in front of her.
"They've called you three times already," Regina said retrieving cream from the refrigerator and sugar from a cabinet. Setting the containers down in front of Emma, she casually added a moderate spoon of raw sugar to her coffee. She idly stirred for a moment before asking, "Do they know how to access the GPS on your phone?"
Emma bolted upright in panic, her eyes wide. "No," she sighed, visibly relaxing. She reached for the cream and added a small amount before dumping several heaping spoons of raw sugar into her coffee. Taking a tentative sip, the sheriff was pleasantly surprised. "This is good, kind of nutty." She'd been expecting dark and bitter.
"Texas pecan roast," Regina supplied before taking another sip. "It's amazing you can even taste it considering the amount of sugar you heaped into your cup."
Ignoring the slight jibe, Emma took another sip and decided to add a tad more creamer. Maybe this French press wasn't such a bad deal after all. Scrolling through the contacts on her cellphone, she asked, "Are you sure about this?" Emma didn't feel too comfortable about lying, but she understood why it was necessary.
"Unless you have a better suggestion," Regina prompted. Her eyes burned every time she blinked, dealing with Emma and their situation while remaining on magical alert was severely taxing. "We both agreed no one would react well to our predicament."
"No," the sheriff said blowing out a heavy breath. "Okay, here goes nothing." She dialed and was immediately answered by a frantic Mary Margaret. "Yeah, it's me." Emma smiled but it quickly switched to a frown. "I'm fine!" she exclaimed. Her brows furrowed as she listened. "Hold on, hold on. I think we can relax about Cora for a little while," Emma sighed when Mary Margaret cut her off. "David just needs to man the station. Tell him to leave Hook and Greg Mendell alone. Did he get that press release done?" Gritting her teeth, she said, "I have it under control."
Regina cocked an eyebrow as she took another sip of coffee.
"Stop talking. Please, just stop talking for one minute," Emma slapped her hand on the island. "That isn't how we do things here!" she yelled, clenching her free hand into a fist. "He's hurt and in pain. You can't just drag him out of the hospital. There are rules, Mary Margaret." Taking a deep breath during a blissful second of quiet, the sheriff was able to compose herself and calmly continue. "I found Regina…. Stop! Like I was saying, I found Regina, and she agreed to help me." Emma planted her forehead in her palm and listened. "Are you done?" She had to repeat her question several times.
Finishing her coffee, Regina frowned. She hadn't expected such turmoil amongst the Charming clan. If she'd known, the former mayor may have proceeded differently. She turned away from Emma and rinsed her cup in the sink before putting it in the dishwasher.
"We agreed on a mutually beneficial partnership," Emma said, happy that she could finally explain and enjoy another sip of her coffee. "We'll shadow each other for the time being, like a buddy system. That way Cora can't run around as Regina and cause mayhem, destruction and general chaos." She frowned, slamming her cup down with frustration.
Regina grabbed dish cloth and wiped up the spilled coffee. She nodded at Emma's apologetic wince.
Pursing her lips, the sheriff hopped off the stool and paced the length of the kitchen. "Well, I think she deserves some slack," she spat. "Because she didn't kill Archie, and she said no to Cora…! I was there, Mary Margaret!" Sighing, Emma put a hand on her hip and stared up at the ceiling. "Look, we'll meet up later and discuss things further, but I'm not changing my mind." Ending the call, she dropped her cell on the island.
After a few deep breaths, Emma turned around to face Regina who stood in front of the kitchen sink, looking out the window. She'd gone off script a bit and wondered if the former mayor was devising ways to punish her. Grabbing her coffee, Emma downed the room temperature liquid, still enjoying the flavor.
"You'll have to deal with Henry first—and quickly," Regina commented after a moment. She turned and retrieved the creamer and sugar containers.
Emma watched as Regina started putting things away and tidying the kitchen. "You're taking this awfully well." Honestly, she'd expected Regina to go all Evil Queen on her stupid butt.
"No," Regina said with a bit of bite as she closed the dishwasher, "I'm most certainly not." She paused and turned to face Emma. "However, our fates are now entwined."
"So, it can't be broken?" the sheriff asked, leaning on the island.
The brunette shook her head, stating, "Not by anyone in this world or the other." Regina stepped forward and mirrored Emma's pose. "It would be a great risk to both of us to even try. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying."
"But everyone is always carrying on about true love this and true love that," Emma said straightening the place mats in front of the stools. She glanced up at the former mayor's snort.
"It can break any curse, but it can't break a spell of its own creation. Since that's where your magic stems from, it's not a viable option in this instance." Not knowing where to take their conversation from there, Regina walked towards the dining room.
"So we're stuck together forever?" Emma asked, still focusing on the place mats. She could see Regina turn toward her out of the corner of her eye.
"Till death do us part," the former mayor quipped lightly, unsure if the sheriff would appreciate the levity.
"Cute," Emma smirked, standing up. Looking at Regina, she apologized, "I really screwed up." Tears started to form. God, she was tired, and she hated showing any type of weakness in front of anyone, let alone the former mayor.
Regina opened her mouth but halted the sarcastic reply before it could leave her lips. It wouldn't do any good for the sheriff to despise her anymore. "You're exhausted. Come; let's get some rest before facing Henry and your parents."
Emma nodded as she wiped the corners of her eyes with her thumbs. Obediently, she trailed Regina as she led them upstairs. She had no choice but to follow unless she wanted to be a blubbering mass on the floor. A feeling of awkwardness came over her as they entered the master bedroom. She watched Regina sit down on the far side of the bed and pull off her boots.
Glancing over her shoulder, Regina rolled her eyes. "Sleep on the floor if it'll make you feel better." Shifting around a few pillows, she flopped back and closed her eyes. She smirked at the sound of more pillows being moved. The comfort eased her into slumber.
"Regina?" Emma rolled to face the former mayor. "Gold had me cast that spell on purpose, didn't he?" Her eyes drifted closed of their own volition, but she did manage to hear Regina's answer.
"Rumpelstiltskin doesn't do anything without a reason."
Emma leaned against the driver's side of the police cruiser as she waited for Henry to come bounding out of the school building. She absently looked around, searching for anything out of the ordinary. Rubbing her hands together, the sheriff cupped her hands and blew into them. When the last bell of the day had finally rung, Emma ducked to chance a glance at Regina. The former mayor was still quietly reading her boringly titled book, A Universe from Nothing, or something equally mind-numbing.
"Are you sure you don't want to handle this?" Emma asked again, not that she wanted to admit feeling worried about the upcoming conversation.
"It'll be better coming from you." Regina turned the page, losing herself in the scientific words.
Sighing, the sheriff scanned the confusing line graph on one of the pages, stood upright and leaned back against the car. She caught sight of Henry walking out of the building and frowned at his sad, downcast expression. However, that instantly changed when the boy looked up and smiled. It only took a moment for Emma to realize he was not looking at her but at Regina. He seemed to slow as he approached.
There were no greetings as Emma just opened the backseat driver's side door. Without a word, Henry climbed in and buckled his seatbelt. As the sheriff drove them away from the school and all the curious looks, she kept glancing at Henry in the rearview mirror. He watched Regina intently, but his gaze would occasionally meet Emma's in the mirror. It would always snap back to Regina after a moment or two, though.
They pulled into a small park along the water's edge, overlooking the harbor. No one visited it this time of year. That's why Regina had suggested it, and the sheriff had readily agreed.
Emma drummed her fingers on the wheel. She glanced over when Regina closed her book. The former mayor arched an eyebrow at her. Sighing, Emma unhooked her seatbelt and turned in her seat. "I royally screwed up, Kid."
Regina looked down and idly stroked the slightly bent corners of her book. Her anger over their situation flared, but it was quickly squelched by her own feelings of inadequacy.
"What's going on?" Henry demanded. He shifted in his seat, looking between his mothers.
Emma glanced down at her hands. Looking up at Regina, she felt tears threaten to form. She sighed and said, "I asked Gold to help me find your mom, and I wasn't too careful with the consequences of using magic."
"Why did you go to Gold? Did you make a deal? What did he want?" The questions came rushing out of Henry until he finally took a breath and asked in a hushed whisper, "What did you do?"
Regina winced. She didn't see the heated glare Henry fixed on Emma but she did hear the sheriff's hitched breath. Turning, she took in the tears in Emma's eyes and Henry's scowl.
"He gave me a locator spell," Emma whispered. "When I found her, I sort of bound us to each other." She gestured between her and Regina. Damn, this was turning out to be a lot harder than she'd thought. She didn't like admitting her screw-ups, but denying it was futile.
"You promised you wouldn't use magic," Henry interrupted. "That's what you said when you got back from the Enchanted Forest."
"I know, I know, but I was under so much pressure." Emma gripped the seat, her eyes pleading. "Trust me, it was a last resort. Mary Margaret and David were driving me crazy about finding Cora." And she'd been so tired but thought it best to leave that bit out. "And with all the stuff going on with Belle, Hook, Gold and that stranger, Greg Mendell, it's been a real zoo, Kid."
Henry was quiet for a long moment, his eyes shifting between Emma and Regina again. He was confused. Why was Emma doing all the talking? Why hadn't his mother said anything? "So that stuff the other kids were talking about at lunch, about mom helping you, it's true?" Ever since he found out Archie was alive, Henry wanted to believe Regina was still on the path of redemption.
"Yeah," Emma smirked as Regina cocked an eyebrow. "It's true."
"But that's good, right?" Henry asked with hope.
"Partly, yes," Regina spoke to Henry for the first time in days since Emma, her idiot parents and the Blue Fairy attempted their ambush. Turning, she accepted that Henry would not welcome this change once he understood the ramifications of it. "But it was not by our choice."
Henry's brows furrowed. Then suddenly, he understood. "Mr. Gold tricked you?" He looked back to Emma, surprise across his face and disappointment in his eyes. The hero was supposed to be smart, at least all the ones he liked were.
The boy's judgment hit the sheriff hard—much harder than she had anticipated.
"But if you cast it, maybe you can undo it!" Henry exclaimed. He looked between his two mothers but quickly sobered at their lack of enthusiasm. "You already tried that, huh? I guess it didn't work." His eyes drifted downward. Looking up again, Henry asked, "What about the Blue Fairy?"
Emma hadn't asked about her. For a moment, she allowed herself a shred of optimism, but the former mayor simply shook her head at both of them. The sheriff's hopes were dashed as Regina repeated her words from earlier.
"It's imperative that you understand us here, Henry." When the boy focused on her, Regina continued, "The spell cannot be broken by anyone from this world or the other, and not without great risk to one or both of us."
"But…." Henry stopped when Emma shook her head.
Taking a deep breath, the sheriff gave her son a sad smile. "We're also going to have to keep it on the down low for a while."
"More secrets," the boy spat. He scowled spitefully at his mothers, crossing his arms and slumping in his seat.
"Henry," Emma said soothingly, hoping to escape the impending wrath. She couldn't stand it when he was mad at her.
"Something's wrong," Regina said ignoring her son's bratty tantrum.
"Yeah," Henry pouted, glaring at Regina. "More lying."
"Not here," the former mayor said absently as she tried to focus on the source of the disturbance. She twisted in her seat, searching for some sort of visual cue but saw nothing. "It's moving towards town."
Immediately, the sheriff belted in and started the car. "Any idea what it is?" She paused as she steered towards the main road. "Is it Cora?"
"I lost it," Regina whispered. Storybrooke's thin magic atmosphere was still rather unsettling. It wasn't thick and heavy like in the Enchanted Forest, but threadbare, and made the former mayor feel exposed. "It's not Cora, but whatever it is, it's big."
It wasn't until his mothers shared a concerned look that Henry got worried.
Sirens blaring, Storybrooke's only police cruiser sped down Bayview Street, leaving a trail of dust in its wake. They reached downtown in a matter of minutes. Without slowing down or much notice, Emma jerked the wheel for a sharp turn and sent the cruiser speeding down the alley between Dave's Fish 'n' Chips and Mr. Gold's pawnshop.
"Holy crap!" The sheriff slammed on the brakes the moment a flying blue hatchback crash landed in the alley entrance. Emma bolted out of the cruiser and jogged out onto Main Street, Regina and Henry right behind her. Hearing screams, she ran to the nearest intersection. Glancing down Second Avenue, she watched a horde of townsfolk a block over run in the direction of Town Hall. The sheriff took off again but suddenly dropped onto her hands and knees.
Watching Emma fall, Henry desperately wanted to get to her and help. But as it was, Regina was practically dragging him towards her anyway. He glanced up at his mother's face and knew she was in pain, just like Emma. Looking between them, Henry wondered if this had something to do with their new bond they had mentioned.
Letting go of Henry, Regina bent and helped the Savior up on her feet. "Push through it, Sheriff, and be mindful we have an 11 year-old with much shorter legs." Once Emma was stable, she reached for the boy's hand and was relieved that he immediately gripped it tightly.
Feeling rattled, Emma wiped at her eyes while taking slow, deep breaths. A series of loud crashes drew her attention back down the street. Suddenly, Mary Margaret, Leroy and David sprinted around a street corner over a block away, barely missing the dumpster barreling after them.
"Emma, run!" shouted Mary Margaret over the clang of the dumpster slamming into a parked car. She ran like hell towards her daughter.
As the ground started to shake violently, the sheriff flailed her arms about in an attempt to keep her balance. After another, more pronounced shudder, Emma fell back onto the ground. Henry clung to Regina with both arms wrapped around her waist as she instinctively reciprocated.
"How on earth did a giant get to Storybrooke?" the former mayor mused as the giant's head appeared over the roof tops a half-a-block over and moving towards Main Street. Apparently the do-gooder trio was trying to lead the giant somewhere specific, Regina surmised. Obviously, it wasn't working. Glancing down at Henry as his small hands gripped her coat more tightly, she assured him. "It'll be alright."
His grip loosened a little as the boy watched the sheriff stand up. However, Henry's eyes cut back down the street at the charging giant.
"That's Anton." Emma said, brushing her hands off on her jeans, having finally found her earthquake legs. "He gave us the compass."
"Did you happen to leave on good terms?" Regina asked, watching as Anton gradually slowed as he approached.
"I thought so," the sheriff smirked. "I didn't kill him. He didn't kill me. He even did me a favor." She watched the giant and hoped she could talk him down from his rampage.
Emma's amusement faded as the blue hatchback from earlier was hurled over their heads. Automatically, she used her body to shield Henry and Regina from the flying debris. Hearing Mary Margaret shout her name again, she moved away from her charges to peer around the smoking wreckage and was relieved to see all three standing up off the pavement, seemingly uninjured.
"Emma, move!" Regina barked as she dragged Henry towards the sidewalk.
As Anton chunked the abandoned police cruiser, the sheriff didn't even bother to look. Instinctively, she twisted to run towards Regina and Henry. However, the blue hatchback's gas tank exploded, sending shrapnel in all directions. The blast knocked Emma off her feet, tossing her several feet towards the giant to land directly in the path of the incoming car.
Helplessly frozen in the protective grasp of his mother, Henry watched as the police cruiser flew through the air, heading directly towards a severely disoriented Emma. He didn't know what to do. But inexplicably, the car stopped mere seconds before impact. Henry blinked a few times as the car just seemed to hover for a moment before slowly and gently dropping onto the ground beside Emma. He looked up in time to see his mother dropping her hand.
Opening her eyes, the sheriff saw a car grill mere inches from her face. Glancing over at Regina and Henry, she sighed in relief and smiled at the pair on the sidewalk.
"Emma!" Mary Margaret finally reached her daughter, the exploding car having impeded the group's progress to the savior. "Are you alright?" she asked helping Emma stand.
"I'm fine," the sheriff said, ignoring Mary Margaret's fussing. She tried not to wince as Henry slammed into her, squeezing her in a bear hug. "I'm fine," she told him softly, hugging him back.
With wide eyes, the boy looked up at her and said, "Mom saved you! She stopped the car."
The group's reactions varied from astonishment to suspicion. However, the former mayor paid them no heed as she studied Anton. Her eyes squinted as she focused on the magic surrounding the giant and pondered its familiarity.
Anton halted his tear as he caught sight of the familiar blonde. "Emma?"
Gently extricating herself from Henry, the sheriff casually guided him back towards Regina who met the boy halfway. "It's been awhile, Anton," she said with a smile, peering upwards.
Mary Margaret and Leroy scowled as the boy reached for and took hold of the Evil Queen's hand while David stood beside his daughter with his sword drawn.
"I'm sorry," Anton said with great regret. "If I had known it was you, I wouldn't have tossed those carriages."
"They're called cars," Emma said. Her brows furrowed as she asked, "How did you get here, anyway?"
"The witch," the giant answered with venom. "Not her," he said as everyone but Emma and Henry glared at Regina. "The witch that came to retrieve Hook also made me small. The next thing I remember was waking up on a boat in a cage," Anton sneered as he focused on David, "next to him. Then Hook showed up, and I managed to escape."
A million things ran through the sheriff's mind as she looked at her father. Obviously, he and Mary Margaret didn't understand her when she had implicitly said to leave Hook at the hospital. "Where's Hook now?" she asked.
David simply pursed his lips, not willing to answer to his daughter or admit losing the pirate.
Mary Margaret, on the other hand, had to justify everything. "We were just trying to help."
Frowning and ignoring the tension, Leroy asked, "Is there any way to shrink him? We can't have a giant running around Storybrooke and doing more damage." He looked up at Anton and shrugged. "Sorry."
"No, it's alright. The witch said—." The giant's explanation was cut short as he was consumed in a cloud of bright red smoke. Quickly and forcefully, the cloud swirled into a tight funnel. When it dissipated, Anton was once again a travel-friendly size. Clearing his throat, he reached into his pocket and pulled out the remains of a mushroom with a bright blue cap and white spots. "The witch said it wouldn't last for long."
Taking a tentative step forward, Emma glanced over her shoulder to make sure Regina and Henry were going to move with her. She wasn't disappointed. When Anton met her half way, she cautiously accepted the mushroom.
"It's from Wonderland," Regina said interrupting Emma's curious appraisal. Missing pieces of the puzzle were starting to fall into place, and she didn't like the emerging picture.
"Like Alice in Wonderland?" the sheriff asked with wide eyes. She held the fungus out at arm's length, easily surrendering it when Regina reached to claim it.
"I don't think—," David started but stopped when Regina brought the mushroom to her nose. He pointed his sword at the Evil Queen, ready to strike. He lost some of his vigor when Henry tugged on Regina's arm. David watched as the former mayor allowed the boy to smell the mushroom.
"That stinks," Henry said, wrinkling his nose in disgust.
"It's a mushroom," Regina smirked with amusement as she dropped the fungus into her coat pocket for safe keeping. She ignored Mary Margaret's scowl.
Relieved the magical item was safely stashed for the moment, Emma turned her attention back to Anton. "Do you know why Cora brought you here?"
"I'm not really sure." The giant thought for a moment. He glanced over Emma's shoulder to glare at David.
"He's a distraction," Regina murmured to Emma, wanting nothing more than to walk away from this entire situation. Unfortunately, she was forced to endure the public display of idiocy.
With his sword still unsheathed, David stormed towards the former mayor and spat, "What do you know of it?" He stretched to his full height, attempting to intimidate the much smaller woman.
Biting her tongue, Regina cocked an eyebrow as she released Henry's hand and nudged him towards the sheriff. "More by the second, it would seem." Unimpressed by David's display of anger, she asked, "This mess has something to do with your twin, Prince James, doesn't it?"
David's nostrils flared. "Yes."
"You have a twin?" Emma asked, glancing between Mary Margaret and David.
"James was King George's son," Henry said, happy that he could contribute even though he was slightly confused. "He was supposed to marry Princess Abigail. She's King Midas's daughter."
"Okay," the sheriff looked down at Henry. "So if David isn't James, what happened to the real James?"
"It doesn't matter," Mary Margaret said, flustered, ignoring Regina's scoff. She turned to Anton. "This man, David, wasn't responsible for the death of your family."
Unconvinced by the proclamation, the giant looked to Emma for assistance. "Do you believe their story? Are these people worthy of your trust?"
Feeling the weight of the question, the sheriff glanced at Henry who merrily shrugged. Obviously, his storybook wasn't complete in the Enchanted Forest's history. Glancing around at everyone present, she took a deep breath and said, "I think you can trust everyone here."
"Emma," the school teacher hissed, not too subtly nudging her head towards Regina.
The former mayor donned a haughty smirk and a cocked eyebrow, but she had the good grace to drop both at Emma's pointed glare. Having the sheriff's attention, Regina stepped to the side and gestured towards Granny's Diner. "Perhaps we should take this conversation elsewhere."
"Great idea," Emma agreed as she released Henry's hand and smirked as the boy bolted into the diner. Smiling fondly at Regina, the sheriff said, "A cheeseburger sounds really good right now."
Anton stepped up to the two women and glanced between them curiously. He asked, "What's a cheeseburger?"
"Heaven," the sheriff said in a reverent tone as she walked towards the diner with the giant and former mayor each flanking a side.
Mary Margaret and David held back and shared a perplexed look as the others entered the diner before them.
Absently wiping down the counter, Widow Lucas reflected on her long life during which she'd seen and heard many impossible things. But what was happening right now in her restaurant had to be amongst her personal top ten: the Evil Queen sitting at a dinner table with Snow White. Obviously, it was a strained affair, but so far, everyone had been rather cordial. More importantly, nothing of hers had been broken or damaged. So, Eugenia was content to eavesdrop, as usual, like the other few lingering patrons.
"I'm sure we can find some place for you, Anton," the school teacher chattered on happily from her seat next to the giant. She glanced lovingly at her husband who sat catty corner from her. "If you want, I can take you around town tomorrow and introduce you to everyone. We can let them know that you meant no real harm. I'm sure there won't be any hard feelings once everyone gets to meet you."
Regina stabbed a little too forcibly at a chunk of tomato in her salad, causing the fork to scrape across the plate slightly. She ignored Emma's curious glance.
"Yeah, I'm sure Granny has some room for you at her Bed and Breakfast," added Leroy stuffing his last bite of burger in his mouth. "I'll introduce you my brothers tonight, if you want."
A soggy slap pulled Emma and Regina's attention to the counter. Apparently annoyed, Granny had slapped her washcloth forcibly down in the rinse sink. She grumbled under her breath as she headed back towards the kitchen and yelled for Ruby.
"Anton," Emma said slowly with a gentle smile. Making sure she managed to grab his undivided attention, she said, "I don't mean to pry, but why do you think Cora brought you here?"
"I'm not really sure," the giant answered, relieved to finally be talking to Emma. "I have an idea, but I'm hesitant to say."
"You're among friends here, Anton," David boldly announced from his end of the table, his back to the diner's entrance. Yet, even as he said the words, his eyes bored into Regina who sat regally at the other end of the table.
Anton scowled slightly but chose to ignore the twin of his dead enemy. Rifling through his robes as he hunted for his secret pocket, he pulled out a long, clear tube containing what looked like a clipping of a small, bright green plant. He held it reverently and said, "I believe it has something to do with this."
"Indeed," Regina whispered, captivated by the suspended sprout. She had read about the beans in countless, dusty tomes but had never expected to a see a bean—let alone a seedling—in person.
Seeing understanding in Regina's eyes, Anton nodded and handed the tube to the former mayor who hesitantly accepted it. He paraphrased his fallen brother's words. "It needs to be protected at all costs because it would be disastrous if just one bean gets into the wrong hands."
"Then give it to us," interjected Mary Margaret. "We'll protect it."
"Sorry," the giant turned back to the school teacher once again, still unconvinced by their proclamations, "but you were having a hard enough time trying to stop me. How do you expect to stop a witch as powerful as Cora? Or anyone else who would want the beans?"
Cocking an eyebrow, Emma smirked at Mary Margaret and David's inability to offer an answer. She knew she shouldn't feel so cocky since she didn't have a clue either.
"We'll find a way," David said puffing out his chest. He would not be deterred.
Regina rolled her eyes as she offered the suspended seedling back to Anton.
Graciously, the giant took the plant from the witch as he spoke to David. "I wish I shared your confidence, but these plants are very fickle and surprisingly tender. They require great care before they can potentially yield a harvest. From what I have seen of this world, I'm not even sure they could grow here."
Smiling, David leaned forward, resting his forearms on the table. "We have fertile farmland here in Storybrooke. I know of several fields where we could secretly grow the beans."
Mary Margaret gave Anton a hopeful look.
"Not that I'm a plant expert or anything," Emma said shifting in her seat as she looked between Regina and her parents, "but don't we have to let that seedling grow up before we can plant an entire field?"
"Yes," Anton said with a hint of sadness. It could take months to grow anything substantial and before he could return home.
"May I suggest a visit to Widow Granger, Mr. Anton," the former mayor said, taking pity on the giant's crestfallen face. From what she had read of the giants, it was their solemn duty to grow the magical beans. "She's an herbalist who mastered her craft decades ago. If anyone in Storybrooke can help you grow your beanstalks, if you choose to do so, it would most certainly be her." She glanced at her watch. "However, I would recommend waiting until tomorrow. She's undoubtedly already singing her yard to sleep."
Henry's brows furrowed as he looked at his mother and said, "Plants don't sleep, not really." He glanced sheepishly down the table at David. His grandfather had told him not to pester the adults with questions, especially about Prince James, shortly after they sat down. Naturally, Henry didn't understand why his grandparents didn't want to talk about their family.
Regina smiled softly at the boy. "You and I know this, but she believes otherwise. Her plants are her children."
Pleased by the suggestion, Anton smiled at Emma and Regina. "Would either of you be willing to introduce me to Widow Granger tomorrow? I would very much like to meet her."
"Sure!" Emma jumped in before Mary Margaret or David could say anything. "Regina and I would be happy to go with you. We'll leave a message at the front desk of Granny's to let you know what time we'll be by to pick you up."
Pleased with the arrangement, Anton nodded.
"Can I come?" Henry asked, wiggling in his seat a little. He wanted to hear about the beans.
"Don't you have school?" Regina asked.
"Yeah," the boy slouched dejectedly as he ate a fry.
"Speaking of which, you need to get ready for bed, Kid." The sheriff reached across the table and ruffled Henry's hair, much to his and the former mayor's annoyance. "Leroy, would you mind getting Anton settled at Granny's?"
"Will do, Emma," the dwarf said as he snatched the last handful of fries from his basket. "Come on, Anton. We'll see if we can find you some normal clothes too."
"What's wrong with my clothes?" the giant asked as he started to follow Leroy outside. Suddenly, he stopped, turned around and walked back to Emma and Regina. "Perhaps you should hold on to this for me," Anton said, offering the suspended seedling to the two women.
Tentatively, the sheriff took the vial after a quick peak at the former mayor. "Okay, we'll keep it safe, Anton."
Once the giant was out of the door, however, Emma thrust the vial at Regina. "Please take this," she whined. She could've sworn the sudden increase in responsibility was about to give her hives, or maybe it was all the magic. "Nobody's going to pick your pockets."
Standing to put on her coat, Regina smirked as she took the vial and tucked it safely in a coat pocket, opposite the side of the mushroom. Par for the course, she ignored the scathing looks from Mary Margaret and David. It was obvious that Emma and her parents were having a heated whispered conversation. She didn't miss Henry tense in response to the Charming clan's fighting but hesitated to offer any comfort. Instead, she opened her billfold and put a few bills on the table.
"Not here," the sheriff bit out loud enough for everyone to hear. "We'll discuss it at the apartment."
"Yes, we will," David snapped as he dropped a few bills on the table, after which, he and Mary Margaret snatched up their coats and headed home.
Regina watched Emma seethe for a moment while Henry slowly slipped on his coat.
"Come on, let's get this over with," the sheriff mumbled as she added her own money to the table. With the former mayor and Henry in tow, Emma left the diner.
"What are you doing here, Regina?" Mary Margaret spat as soon as Regina closed the apartment door.
"I invited her," Emma said calmly, taking off her coat and hanging it on the back of a dining chair. "We have some things we all need to discuss."
"Actually, we do," David said from behind the kitchen island, tossing down the dish towel. "I think you need to relinquish that mushroom and seedling, Regina."
Clinching her hands into tight fists, the former mayor gritted her teeth but maintained her composure. She stepped away from the apartment door and moved toward the stairs leading to the loft, mindful of the distance between herself and Emma. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Henry peeking over the edge of the loft. Regina took a slow, deep breath before refocusing on the two idiots, still saying nothing.
"He's right." Mary Margaret turned to her daughter. Her eyes pleaded for Emma to see reason. "We can't trust her with them, Emma."
"Yeah, like how we couldn't trust her when she didn't kill Archie?" Emma scowled. Shaking her head, she looked over at the former mayor, caught her glancing up at the loft and realized Henry must be eavesdropping—not that it could be avoided in this apartment. "I'm saying this because it's the truth and, frankly, our best option at the moment." Pausing, she took a deep breath before pinning Mary Margaret and David with a firm look. "Regina's the only one who even stands a chance against Cora. We need her on our team."
"We can ask Rumpelstiltskin for help," Mary Margaret suggested, taking a step toward her daughter. She desperately wanted to hug her.
"He'd be willing to help, for a price" added David. He glared at Regina. "At least any deal with him would be binding."
Releasing a long suffering sigh, Regina pinched the bridge of her nose. Had no one learned their lesson from dealing with the imp?
"Really, you want to ask a man you had locked up to protect us?" Emma crossed her arms, perturbed that she even had to point that fact out. And after her most recent experience with Mr. Gold, she certainly didn't trust him any further than she could throw him. "No, Regina and I have already reached an agreement and I'm respecting it." The sheriff took several steps in the direction of the former mayor, effectively standing between Regina and her parents.
"Well, I don't like it." David frowned as he moved around the kitchen island to stand next to Mary Margaret. "You have to understand, Emma. Nothing good will come from this arrangement."
"Understand what?" the sheriff asked, tossing her arms up in exasperation. "Neither one of you tell me anything of substance. You say read Henry's book. Well, obviously, it has some pretty major plot holes." Pursing her lips, she gave her father a tired look. "You didn't even get that press release to the paper."
"I typed it up," David defended weakly, thrown by the sudden shift in topic. "It just didn't make it to the office."
"It could've been e-mailed from anywhere," Emma whined. "And now, Hook is in the wind." Glaring at the table, she continued, "You both asked me how you could help. I explicitly explained what I needed from each of you." She sighed and rubbed her face. Letting her hands fall to her sides, Emma added, "Now we have to deal with all the damage done to the town on top of everything else."
"David's doing the best he can, Emma, and Anton did say he was sorry," Mary Margaret said softly, hoping to calm Emma. "I'm sure everything will work out."
"Insurance policies don't cover property damages by giants, Ms. Blanchard," Regina cut in, feeling slightly sympathetic to Emma's blatantly growing frustration.
"Then the town will pay for it," David said matter-of-factly.
"With what, exactly?" Regina asked, crossing her arms as she narrowed her eyes at David and Mary Margaret. She did remember the state of the city coffers when asked to step down as mayor. "The amount of funds required to restore the multitude of damaged businesses to code would be far more than Storybrooke can cover, and that wouldn't even start to cover the personal property damages," Looking at Emma, she added, "That's if you could convince the city council to agree—which they won't."
Looking back and forth between David and Regina, the sheriff absently nodded as she thought back to the few budgetary meetings she had actually attended with the city council, the same group of people who were currently running Storybrooke.
Taking a breath and standing up to her full height, Mary Margaret held her ground against Regina. "We'll pay for it." Ignoring Regina's amused scoff and eye roll, she added, "I'm sure others will be willing to pitch in and help."
"Possible, but doubtful, Dear," Regina said with a hint of sadness and also ignoring Emma's curious look.
"The people of Storybrooke are good and generous, Regina. You'll see," Mary Margaret said with a confident smile, feeling and sounding every bit like Snow White. She turned and headed towards the kitchen to start a pot of tea.
"I'm going to go pack a few things," Emma said to Regina as she headed towards the stairs.
"Why?" David asked casting a worried glance to Mary Margaret.
Stopping on the first step, the sheriff hung her head for a moment before turning around. "I told you when I called this morning," she huffed. "Regina and I are going to shadow each other until this situation with Cora gets resolved."
"How are you planning on doing that?" From the kitchen, Mary Margaret narrowed her eyes at the former mayor. "They could be working together. Just because you heard something or saw something, doesn't make it true."
Looking at Emma, Regina simply raised her eyebrows as she moved to stand directly beside the stairs.
"We're working together," the sheriff said with finality before turning and heading upstairs.
The former mayor's eyes followed Emma before turning back to face a glaring David and oblivious Mary Margaret. Sighing softly as she shifted to a more comfortable stance, Regina rolled her eyes as the deputy instantly tensed.
Trotting upstairs, Emma smiled when she saw Henry already in his pajamas. In the corner by the dresser, he sat cross-legged on his air mattress, flipping through his book. She ignored the boy as she dug a duffle out of the bottom of their shared closet. Tossing it on the bed, she grabbed a few shirts off their hangers and proceeded to haphazardly fold them.
When it was obvious that Henry wasn't going to say anything, Emma asked, "Are you alright? I know things have been crazy tense lately."
"Cora doesn't have a story in the book." Confused, Henry looked up at Emma. "She's barely even mentioned." Ever since he'd heard the name and learned of Cora's association, he'd been searching for clues in his book.
Stuffing her shirts in the duffle, the sheriff moved to the dresser and started pulling out more clothes. "I have a feeling there's quite a bit that's not mentioned," she grumbled, stuffing the jeans and undergarments in the bag.
"Are you going to stay with Mom?" the boy asked, closing his book.
Frowning, Emma zipped up her duffle and said, "Yeah."
Pushing his book to the side, Henry stood up and hugged Emma.
Wrapping her arms around him, she whispered in his hair, "You have to keep this secret for us." The sheriff pulled back and was relieved at the boy's nod. Letting Henry go, she grabbed her bag and trotted down the stairs.
After hearing the closet door open and then close, David hissed, "I don't know what you're up to, but we'll find out, Regina."
"You do that," the former mayor challenged, lifting her chin. After all, it was only a matter of time before the whole charade became apparent, anyway. "I imagine you might not like the truth." Ignoring the deputy, Regina pondered Mary Margaret's consternation as she steeped her cup of tea at the kitchen island. "Or the consequences of it," she added quietly.
Glaring, David waited for some reason to act, any reason to remove Regina Mills from this awkward equation regarding his daughter and grandson.
"I'm ready," Emma said as she jogged down the stairs with her duffle. Dropping it on the dining table, she reached for her coat and put it on. "I need you to cover the station and dispatch tomorrow, David. Since the cruiser is in the shop, just call my cell if something pops up." She rolled her shoulders to settle the bulky sheriff's jacket and slung the duffle over her shoulder.
"Would you like a ride?" asked Mary Margaret after a sip of tea. "It's cold out."
Sighing, Emma said, "I think the cold air will do us some good." If she wanted to escape from her parents, she knew Regina had to be chomping at the bit. "Ready?" she asked, turning to the former mayor.
Nodding sharply while walking, Regina opened the apartment door, stepped out and started down the stairs, confident the sheriff was close behind her.
"Bye," Emma said grabbing the door handle. She was about to pull it shut when….
"Wait!" Henry called from the loft. Quickly, he darted down the stairs and slipped out the partially open door.
"Henry, no," Mary Margaret ordered since David was unable to catch the boy.
Ducking her head, Emma covertly observed as Henry hugged Regina, wrapping his arms tightly around her waist. She kept a firm grip on the doorknob.
"Thank you," the boy whispered, tears pricking his eyes.
Returning the unexpected hug and, sensing Henry's inner conflict, Regina firmly stroked his back and softly said, "You're welcome."
After a moment, he pulled back and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. There was more he wanted to say and ask but didn't know how. Plus, Henry was still very angry with his mother. What made it worse, however, was that he was also mad at Emma.
When the boy composed himself, Regina offered a gentle smile. "It'll be okay."
With a weak nod, Henry gave a watery smile in return and bolted back into the apartment. In that moment, he believed everything might just be okay, but he didn't want his mother to see him cry.
Smirking, Emma watched the boy hurry up the stairs, heard the unmistakable squeak of the air mattress and saw the light go out. She glanced at her parents, nodded and closed the door.
Walking towards Mifflin Street, Emma shifted the weight of her duffle before shoving her hands in her jacket pockets. "I need to ask you something."
"Then ask," Regina said, tired of talking.
"This feud between you and Mary Margaret...," the sheriff paused for a second to gauge the former mayor's reaction. "Is it like Henry's storybook says?"
Regina stopped walking and ground her teeth. She pursed her lips before turning to face Emma with a hard gaze. For a moment, she considered not answering, but the sheriff would doggedly hound her. Taking a deep breath, she battled with her emotions and weighed the tactical benefits of saying anything.
"Hey, if you don't want to talk about it right now, that's fine. We've been through a lot today, but eventually, I'm going to have to understand your side of things." Emma said softly, relaxing when she sensed a notable shift in the former mayor.
When they quietly resumed their walk, Regina sighed as emotions came bubbling to the surface—fresh, raw and powerful. "No, it's not as simple as in Henry's book."
Emma nodded, expecting as much.
"In fact, none of the stories in his book are quite right," the former mayor admitted.
Weeks ago, while she and Mary Margaret were actually in the Enchanted Forest, she'd inquired about the history of the land and its people, just mainly as something to pass the time. But the sheriff was simply told to read Henry's book again upon their eventual return. Mary Margaret had said it was more comprehensive than what she could readily explain. Yet as they traveled, Emma was regaled with bits and pieces of Snow White's glamorous past life, along with the occasional gushing over what could've been. It was all rather disappointing because she had hoped for a more profound bonding experience between them and not for the surface one they'd ended up establishing. When it was all said and done, however, the savior still felt like she was drifting and lost.
"Mary Margaret and David seem pretty content with them," Emma admitted as she shifted her bag again.
"They would," Regina sneered, unsurprised.
"So, set the record straight," Emma prompted casually, kicking a pebble off the sidewalk. "I know we can't hash out everything in one go, but..." She trailed off as she deliberated how much to expose herself.
"I suppose it would be for the best." The former mayor cut a soft glare at the sheriff. "The short version?" she asked in clarification.
"That'll be a good place to start," Emma said as she smiled softly again, realizing the prickly woman wasn't that bad, if one knew how to handle her.
"Your mother ruined me."
Blinking at the singular statement, Emma waited for Regina to continue while she carefully mulled it over.
Eventually, they reached 108 Mifflin Street. As the former mayor headed up the drive instead of the walk to the front door, the sheriff curiously followed her to a large and meticulously organized storage shed along the back wall of the garage. She was quite astonished to learn that Regina Mills fed stray cats.
Remaining quiet and out of the way, Emma watched as Regina refilled a series of food and water bowls. Occasionally, the former mayor would affectionately pet a cat and talk softly to it. For their part, the strays mewed appreciatively and weaved around Regina's legs, gracing her with the occasional, spontaneous head butt.
After the food was stowed and the shed locked back up, Emma followed Regina to the side entrance of the house while glancing back at the hungry cats. As the former mayor unlocked the door, she asked, "If you like cats, why don't you have one?"
"Henry's allergic," Regina answered simply, closing and locking the door behind Emma. Stepping around the sheriff, she walked down a short, dark hall, flipped on the kitchen lights and went to the sink to wash her hands. "You need to be mindful of using the side door. A few like to slip inside and hide in the house on occasion."
"Okay," Emma said, dropping her bag on the floor by the kitchen island. She smirked at the idea of Regina chasing a cat through her house.
Drying her hands with a dish towel, the former mayor observed the sheriff's awkward stance and searching eyes.
"Regina, I'm—," Emma cut herself off and took a deep breath. Looking up, she caught Regina's almost compassionate gaze and pursed her lips. "I'm sorry," she said after a quick breath.
"As am I, Miss Swan," the former mayor replied softly as she straightened the dish towel on its hook.
"I guess things are about to get really awkward." Emma shifted back and forth on her feet. "How far apart do you think we can actually get, anyway?"
"Let's find out," Regina said, walking out to the dining room.
Emma was quick to follow.
During their impromptu experiment, the pair discovered they could be a grand distance of roughly ten feet without any painful side effects. At eleven feet, they both experienced an unpleasant prickly sensation, while at twelve feet, they were overwhelmed with a deep, searing pain. Needless to say, the sheriff noticed she was hit a lot harder by the pain than the former mayor but decided not to bring it up.
Now, they sat quietly at the dining table indulging in a glass of apple cider. Emma had never been so happy for a stiff drink in her life. Unfortunately, the beverage made her tongue a little loose after such a harrowing day—not to mention the last 48 hours.
"Thanks for saving my life today," the sheriff offered, taking another sip while she watched Regina refocus on her. Swallowing, she smiled and added, "It was a little close, though."
"It wasn't my intention," Regina explained before taking a sip. "Magic works differently here." Her eyes glazed over as she once again lost herself in her own thoughts.
"It would've been bad for Henry to see me get mushed," Emma mused, swirling the liquid around in her glass. She wanted more ice but didn't feel like getting up and didn't feel like making Regina get up. Searching the former mayor's passive face, she gently said, "Henry seemed pretty clingy with you tonight."
"It was only natural. He was frightened."
Confused by the dismissive answer, Emma frowned, realizing Regina honestly believed that all Henry wanted from her was protection. The sheriff wanted to probe the issue further, but she decided not to push her luck. "Shower and sleep, how is that going to work exactly?"
It turned out that the bathing dilemma wasn't all that bad and happened without much fuss.
Emma was given free reign of the hall restroom—the same one Henry used if the wide assortment of colorful kids' shampoos and bath bubbles stashed in the tall, free-standing cabinet was any indication. She simply shuffled stuff around and made room for her own things. Basking in the high water pressure and copious amounts of hot water, Emma was mindful of the prickly former mayor sitting in the hall and rushed through her nightly process.
After being shown the guest bedroom, the sheriff reluctantly unpacked her duffle, tossing what little she had brought in the dresser and closet. If only for appearances, it further solidified that their new situation was indeed permanent. Regina casually commented that they may eventually be able to increase their limited range, and the sheriff could one night sleep in the guest room. However, Emma could only nod and dutifully returned the same patience Regina had given her. Everything was going remarkably well until the former mayor retrieved extra blankets and sheets from the hall linen closet.
"Why can't I sleep in the bed? It's huge," the sheriff reasoned, crossing her arms as Regina laid down a sheet on the chaise lounge in the master bedroom. "I napped on it this morning."
"Miss Swan," the former mayor said, a little too reserved as she grabbed another flat sheet and proceeded to lay it over the chaise, "I have been remarkably patient."
"Yes, you have," Emma agreed, still watching Regina's skilled movements as she situated the blanket. She wanted to say she didn't need sheets, but the whole process seemed to keep Regina calm. "You've no idea how much I appreciate that, Regina—and this." She gestured to the chaise-turned-bed.
Expertly turning back the top sheet and blanket, the former mayor fluffed the two extra pillows she'd grabbed from the hall closet and dropped them on the lounge. Stepping around the sheriff, she glanced at the stoic expression and sighed. She spoke as she removed the decorative pillows and turned back her own bed. "As two people who haven't particularly cared for one another, our lives have become intimately entwined. It may not seem that way now, but rest assured, we will feel the impact soon enough."
Sitting down on the chaise, Emma asked, "This is your way of putting some space between us?"
"Precisely," Regina agreed, slipping under the sheet. She pulled the lightweight blanket up as she lay down. Reaching for the bedside lamp switch, she asked, "Do you still need the light?"
"No," Emma said, sliding under the covers. The lounge wasn't too uncomfortable. She lay there for a few moments, staring at the ceiling, her eyes adjusting to the cool glow from the street lamps. Hearing Regina roll over, she asked, "Aren't you worried about your mother slipping in here while we're asleep?" Her gaze drifted nervously to the large window by her head.
"Not tonight," Regina said, staring at her closet door. "Her plans have been disrupted. She'll need time to strategize."
"Do you think she really just wants to reconcile with you?" Emma asked softly, looking at the lump in the bed. She'd seen and heard of similar situations while in the foster system.
"I doubt that's her only motivation." Closing her eyes, Regina pushed all thoughts of her mother out of her mind and said with finality, "Good night, Miss Swan."
Half asleep, Emma once again sat at the kitchen island. Her head rested heavily on her left palm as she dumped spoonful after spoonful of sugar into her coffee. Then, she poured enough cream into the cup to raise the dark liquid to the mug's brim. Hot chocolate would've been preferred, but it lacked the necessary caffeine to jumpstart her weary body.
While stirring the heating milk in a small stainless steel pot on the stove, Regina casually asked, "Would you like some oatmeal?" Apparently, Emma Swan was not a morning person.
After taking her blissful first sip of coffee, Emma answered, "No thanks. Have any cereal?" She hopped off the stool after being pointed to the rather impressive walk-in pantry.
Breakfast was a quiet affair. The former mayor stood at the island eating her oatmeal with dried figs and chopped nuts while drinking her coffee and glancing over the morning paper. The sheriff quietly ate two bowls of stale kids' cereal, finishing off the box. When Regina finished, she started fluttering about, cleaning the kitchen. Emma turned the refolded newspaper toward herself.
After glancing over the front page, the sheriff asked, "Whatever happened to Sidney?" She paused and looked up at Regina. "David looked for him in the psych ward at the hospital, but he wasn't there."
"He's in hiding, no doubt," Regina supplied, loading the rinsed dishes in the dishwasher, "biding his time." She looked out the kitchen window for a brief moment, cautiously reaching out with her magical senses and finding nothing.
"Do you think he'll team up with Cora?" Emma asked, pushing the paper back. She felt useless.
"No," the former mayor closed the dishwasher and considered the sheriff before picking up the paper. She turned, opened a low cabinet and stuffed the newspaper in a paper bag half full with other newspapers. "He'll stay under the radar until a clear victor presents oneself." She immediately moved to the refrigerator, opened the freezer and pondered their dinner options. Scowling, she asked, "When do you think we'll be home tonight?"
Startled by the question, Emma could only offer a blank look. "Um," She swallowed as Regina glared at her. "I'm not really sure. Michael said to check on the cruiser around noon. I'll need to drop by the station at some point today, and we're taking Anton to Widow Granger's sometime this afternoon."
Nodding, the former mayor pulled out a package wrapped in butcher paper and closed the freezer door.
While Regina opened the package on one side of the sink, the sheriff timidly asked, "Is there anything you need to do today?" Heck, if the former mayor could be bothered to ask, couldn't she at least offer the same courtesy? It wasn't like she knew what the woman did all day, anyway.
Washing her hands, Regina glanced over her shoulder at Emma with an odd expression. "Not today." She shut off the water and dried her hands.
"Okay." Shifting on the stool, the sheriff asked, "I know Mary Margaret thinks the townies will help each other out, but is there any other way to help expedite repairs?" She drummed her fingers on the counter. "Some way we can raise the money?"
"Finances aren't the only issue, Miss Swan," Regina said, opening the refrigerator. She started pulling out various sandwich makings and placing them on the kitchen island as she explained. "Even if the other citizens managed to provide sufficient funds, there remains the issue of skilled labor and time." Constructing the sandwiches, she wordlessly inquired about the sheriff's preferences. Regina continued, "Storybrooke only supports two construction companies, and their priority will be repairing the city's infrastructure."
Emma salivated over the yummy looking sandwiches as her two bowls of cereal seemed to have already worn off. She absently asked, "What about Marco? He obviously knows how to handle a hammer." She frowned as Regina sliced the sandwiches and neatly folded them in plastic wrap.
"As talented as the man may be with his trade, he can only work so much in a day," Regina said as she put things away. Then she slipped out of the kitchen and out of Emma's sight for a moment.
Emma frowned as the prickling sensation started all over her body. She was about to get up and follow when the former mayor returned with a small, soft-sided cooler. Raising an eyebrow, the sheriff smirked as she remembered seeing a few snack-sized chip bags in the walk-in pantry. She quickly retrieved them and tossed them in the cooler. Watching the former mayor pack their lunch, Emma bent over on the counter, leaning on her elbows. She couldn't remember the last time someone packed a lunch for her.
"So, there's nothing we can do to help?" Emma mentally reviewed everyone she knew of in town. In a flash of inspiration, she asked, "What about the dwarves? They enjoy hard work, and they're skilled."
Opening the freezer again, Regina scoffed as she grabbed an ice pack. "The serfs won't take kindly to another royal decree on top of all their other jobs." She closed the freezer and pinned Emma with a sour look. "And let's not forget, they already work 40 hours a week to provide for themselves." After adding the ice pack to the cooler, she got two bottles of water out of the fridge. "I wouldn't bother asking the Blue Fairy. She'll just say the experience is character building and severely frown on anything taking the dwarves from mining her precious dust." Reorganizing the contents of the cooler, Regina zipped it closed. "So, the options are eliciting outside help, using magic or allowing everyone to deal with their problems in their own time."
"We have enough outsiders with Greg Mendell in the hospital," Emma retorted as she stood upright and eyed Regina. Having no desire to tangle with Leroy or Mother Superior, she said, "You could do it—fix the damaged businesses with magic."
Pursing her lips, the former mayor considered the request but said nothing.
"If you didn't care, you wouldn't have stopped that car from landing on me." The sheriff slowly smiled. "Let alone all the advice you've been giving me."
"It would've killed you—and me, by proxy." Regina arched an eyebrow, choosing to ignore the advice comment.
"True, but you wouldn't have suggested that herbalist lady if you didn't at least feel bad for Anton." Emma grinned as Regina glared and stormed out of the kitchen, carrying the cooler. Archie was right. The former mayor was changing.
Dropping the cooler at the top of the foyer steps, Regina rolled her eyes at Emma's lopsided smile. "He was kidnapped by my mother and crammed in a cage on a boat for untold reasons. It wasn't a pleasant experience, I'm sure." Stepping to a console table just off the foyer, she dug in her purse and unclipped her house keys from a larger key ring. Dropping the house keys in her trousers pocket and the others in her purse, Regina walked into the study. "I'll call Widow Granger to arrange a time."
Crossing her arms, Emma leaned against one of the couches while she idly listened to the former mayor converse with Widow Granger, vaguely mentioning the beanstalk seedling. It seemed a pretty cordial conversation, almost downright pleasant.
Hanging up the house phone, Regina said, "She'll expect us around 1:30 this afternoon." She shuffled around a few pieces of paper on her desk, opened a drawer and tucked something inside her blazer.
Nodding, the sheriff pulled her cellphone out of the back pocket of her jeans and called Granny's Bed & Breakfast to leave a message for Anton at the front desk. Snapping her phone shut, she tucked it back in her pocket. Emma cheekily said, "I happen to know that not everyone in this town hates you."
"Really?" Regina crossed her arms and lifted her chin while remaining behind her desk. She fixed Emma with a menacing gleam. "Enlighten me, Miss Swan."
Realizing that her attempt at humor was grossly misplaced a little too late, Emma paled slightly. "I already said I was sorry, and I meant it." However, she squared her shoulders and decided she wouldn't be intimidated by that event again.
After a beat, Regina's expression seemed almost sad as she stepped around the desk. "Henry won't be pleased with your earlier suggestion, Miss Swan. I promised I wouldn't use magic, and I've already tested the bounds of that agreement."
"Yeah, he told me about that, but I think he'll understand," the sheriff said, walking back into the foyer. "We'll just explain that I asked you to help the community." She smiled brightly as the former mayor followed her.
Crossing her arms, Regina asked in a sharp tone, "And the community will simply accept this kind gesture as exactly that?"
"Probably not everyone, but it's a step in the right direction." Emma retorted, taking a deep breath while she gave Regina a soft smile. Archie believed in her enough to stretch patient-doctor confidentiality. That had to mean something. "We'll just call it community service," she explained with a shrug.
Cutting her gaze away, Regina reconsidered Emma's plan, but more importantly, she quickly revaluated her current circumstances. "Very well, Sheriff." After all, what did she have to lose?
The Evil Queen was trapped and damned either way.
With the cool spring sun in the mid-morning sky, the walk downtown was relatively quiet as most of Storybrooke's residents had already started the day. Emma would occasionally attempt small talk, but Regina wouldn't elaborate beyond monosyllabic answers. So as they traversed the residential streets towards Main Street, the sheriff looked around, mainly to be nosey.
Turning the final corner onto Main Street, Emma spotted Mary Margaret and Anton walking away from them down the opposite sidewalk. "What are they up to?" she asked as she shifted the cooler strap to her other shoulder.
"Undoubtedly subjecting the poor fool to unwarranted ridicule." Regina scowled as she tucked her chilled hands in coat pockets. She glanced at Emma and waited for the inevitable scolding for her continued sour demeanor.
The sheriff's brow furrowed as she stopped and watched the pair. "It would suck—being dragged around town and forced to apologize to everyone individually."
"Indeed," Regina said from Emma's side. "And solidify his indentured servitude." She'd seen Leopold do the same with nobles and commoners alike.
"Really?" the sheriff smirked looking at the former mayor. "That's what you're taking from this?" She blindly gestured to Anton and Mary Margaret, who were now talking to one of the unfortunate shopkeepers.
Frowning at Emma, Regina elaborated. "I don't doubt the giant's honest regret over his actions. However, for someone to force him to apologize on a one-by-one basis when he has no means other than a word to rectify his wrongs is shaming and cruel for a member of such a proud race."
Emma thought about that for a moment. "I thought she mainly just wanted to help introduce him to everybody. Act like an ice breaker." She shrugged as she glanced up and down the street to survey the damage in the harsh morning sunlight.
"Why? He's more than capable of making his own friends," Regina retorted, walking towards the closest damaged building, Dave's Fish 'n' Chips. A tarp covered the corner and front window by the alley. "It would've been more efficient to hold a town meeting and allow Anton the opportunity to introduce himself while apologizing in mass."
Emma frowned, glancing over her shoulder and back down the street. Anton and Mary Margaret were nowhere in sight. Twisting, she looked up at the library's clock tower. "Why isn't she at school, anyway?"
"A very good question," Regina noted as she opened the door to Dave's. "Shall we get started?"
Nodding, the sheriff followed the former mayor inside to start the whole song-and-dance they had discussed before leaving the house.
"Good morning, Cecil," Regina cheerfully greeted a small boy with reddish brown hair sweeping up dirt and debris in the restaurant's small dine-in section. "Is your father available?"
"Good morning, Ma'am," Cecil said politely with a hint of nervousness. His eyes shifted to the sheriff and back to the former mayor. "He's in the back. Would you like me to fetch him?"
"That would be appreciated, Dear," Regina smiled softly, linking her hands in front of her.
"I'll be right back," the boy said with a small smile. Leaning his broom carefully against the nearest booth, Cecil limped his way to the back of the store. He shot a glare over his shoulder at the sheriff before disappearing into the kitchen.
"Regina, what's going on? Why do I feel like a fish in a barrel?" Emma asked as she glanced around at all the fishing paraphernalia decorating the walls. Her eyes were drawn to a particularly large harpoon. "He isn't Captain Ahab, is he?"
"No," Regina answered dryly, somewhat amused. "You mustn't confuse fairy tales with classical literature, Dear."
With furrowed brow, Emma pondered the possibility of other classical characters. If Storybrooke had Dr. Frankenstein, couldn't there be a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde character somewhere? She shuddered at the thought.
Suddenly, a burly man dressed in a dark blue beanie, grey fisherman's sweater and dark jeans burst through the kitchen door. His blue eyes flashed hot and angry at the sheriff, but cooled upon noticing the former mayor. He stopped before them and took a slow breath. "Good mornin', Mayor," Dave said in a thick Scandinavian accent. His eyes cut to Emma as he added grudgingly, "Sheriff."
Instinctively, Emma subtly shifted her weight in case this bulk of a man decided to take a swing. She slowly let the cooler strap slide off her shoulder and dropped the cooler on the floor.
"Mr. Salter," Regina said, pulling Dave's focus back onto her. "The sheriff and I would like to offer assistance, if you require it."
The fisherman laughed. He quickly sobered and pointed at Emma. "That twig of a woman wouldn't last five minutes on my boat."
"Hey!" the sheriff countered indignantly, meeting Mr. Salter's challenging glare. She was expecting to defend Regina, not herself, but the day was still young. "I have skills."
"Be that as it may, Sheriff, I don't have time for your chattering." Dave returned his focus to Regina. "If you'll excuse me, I've work to do." He turned and started to walk away.
Emma looked between the two. There was obviously some history here.
Taking a slow breath, Regina said, "That is why we're here, Mr. Salter." When he turned back towards her halfway, she gestured to the front window and crumbled corner of the restaurant. "How long did the construction company say it would take to get to you?"
"Four weeks," Dave grumbled. His voice was tight as he continued, "The health inspector, the sadistic bastard, already came by this morning. He told me I had to close until the damage was repaired." The fisherman's eyes flashed again. His glower pulled the weathered skin of his face tight. "I can't afford to be closed for four weeks." Dave paused as if suddenly remembering with whom he was speaking. "But my problems are my own."
"As unfortunate as the current situation may be, we are prepared to offer you a solution to mitigate your immediate woes." Regina glanced behind herself at the damage. Turning back, she cocked an eyebrow.
"I heard you've forsaken magic for your boy," the fisherman narrowed his eyes at the former mayor. He took a tentative step forward, subtly indicating his interest.
Pursing her lips, Regina gritted her teeth as she pushed back the annoyance of her private life being gossip fodder. "Such is the plight of casters."
Nodding slowly, Dave agreed with a raspy, "Aye." He knew the story. His own mother, a reclusive hedge witch, had suffered through similar mistrust.
The sheriff continued to look back and forth between the two. Yup, there was definitely a story here. She briefly wondered if this fisherman was in Henry's book.
Taking a deep breath, Dave quietly said, "I have nothing to offer."
"I'm not Mr. Gold, Dear." The former mayor smirked as mischief laced her tone. She caught a glance at Cecil peaking around the serving counter. "Consider it a future investment."
At Dave's nod, Regina turned back towards the damaged corner, unlinked her hands and deliberated about how to best begin. She concentrated on the magic threads weaving themselves around her and to her. She focused on the debris littering the floor and how all the pieces were supposed to fit together. Most importantly, she remembered how Dave's Fish 'n' Chips used to look.
Watching with great interest, the sheriff was afraid to take her eyes off of Regina. Quickly, she glanced back at the fisherman's hopeful gaze and the boy's innocent curiosity. The suspense was killing her. She could almost feel the excitement building inside and around her as she waited for that magical moment. Out of the corner of her eyes, the sheriff saw Regina move her hands in a seemingly useless gesture when…. Emma blinked, and the restaurant was returned to its tacky, fisherman wharf splendor. She blinked several more times as the dark purple cloud gradually vanished.
"Wow!" Cecil exclaimed, coming out from behind the counter. Moving to stand next to his father, he looked up with wide eyes.
With a smile, Dave ruffled his youngest son's hair. He looked back at the former mayor and sheriff. "Thank you."
With a quick nod, Regina turned and strode out of the building with Emma hastily scrabbling for the cooler before bolting after her, hot on her heels. Her heart was racing, and she felt oddly jittery. The blast of cool air across her face seemed to relieve her reaction to accessing magic. Ignoring the sheriff's concerned look, she continued down the sidewalk at a brisk pace until they reached the next damaged storefront, Sarah's Ice Cream. The large display window was covered with spider-web cracks with a sizable, jagged hole off-center. A blackened piece from the blue hatchback lay inside on the black-and-white checkered floor. Several tiles between the chunk of car and window were ruined.
Regina cringed. This wasn't going to be pleasant. She mentally braced herself as she reached for the door.
"Hold on a minute," Emma said, seeing the faint tremor in the former mayor's hand. She gently laid her hand on Regina's forearm. "Are you alright? You bolted out of there pretty quick." The sheriff looked back down the street to see Dave pulling down the blue tarp, a bright smile on his face.
Dropping her arm, and relieved when Emma released her grip, an irritated Regina shoved her hands in her coat pockets. "Mr. Salter is a man of action, Sheriff. He wouldn't have appreciated us lingering."
"Okay," Emma glanced into the ice cream parlor. She saw Sarah Frost talking adamantly to someone on the phone. Turning back to Regina, she continued, "I got that impression, trust me. But what's with the shaking hands?"
"Magic works differently here," the former mayor supplied automatically.
"You keep saying that, but what does it mean?" the sheriff asked with furrowed brow as she resituated the cooler's strap. She couldn't wait to eat her sandwich. It was the only reason she kept carrying the damned thing.
"I'm not a hundred percent certain," Regina admitted softly.
"Okay, but you'll tell me if you can't keep this up, right?" Emma accepted the pointed glare as an answer and carefully pulled open the ice cream parlor's shattered glass door. She gestured for the former mayor to enter first.
"I'll call you back." Sarah Frost slammed her cordless phone down on the counter by the cash register. Marching to the front of the store from behind the serving counter, she glared at Regina but offered Emma a friendly greeting. "What can I do for you, Sheriff Swan?"
Sparing a fleeting look at the former mayor, the sheriff looked around the store. "We were wondering if we could help out in any way." She flashed the warm smile that usually led to her getting an extra scoop of ice cream at a discounted price.
"You can help by taking out the trash," Sarah scowled. Her eyes were hard as she crossed her arms and gave the former mayor a venomous glower.
Rolling her eyes, Regina scoffed, completely unimpressed. She caught Emma's brief glare. With a sigh, she schooled her features to an expression of professional neutrality. It wasn't like this woman's homemade ice cream, custard or whatever it was called, tasted any good. The former mayor did not, however, like Sarah's amused look.
Obviously, Ms. Frost believed the savior cowed the Evil Queen into behaving.
"Like I was saying, we want to help. I take it the health inspector came by this morning." The sheriff looked around and assessed the damage. It really wasn't that bad, just a lot of broken glass, a few melted floor tiles and a piece of shrapnel from the blue hatchback. "How long until the glass can be repaired?" she asked.
"They have to order it. Russell said it'll take at least two weeks." Sarah watched Emma intently.
"You do realize you're responsible for the glass out on the sidewalk, right?" the sheriff said as she kicked a large piece of glass away from her foot. "It's a safety hazard. You'll need to get that cleaned up today." She fixed the parlor owner with a hard look. "Or else I'll have to write you a ticket."
Sarah's eyes widened in surprise as she stammered, "Of course, Sheriff, I was just making some calls."
"Naturally," Regina commented in a bored tone as she linked her hands behind her back. "Good help is so hard to find these days." She peered into the display case containing all the frozen treats. "How is Ashley enjoying motherhood?"
Sarah Frost huffed loudly. She opened her mouth to bark a retort at the most unwelcome former mayor but was cut off by the sheriff. Her eyes stayed on Regina.
"You'll have to secure the glass panes in your front window and door." Emma watched as Regina casually meandered away. "I'm sure the health inspector has already informed you of what needs to be done before you can reopen."
Forgetting about Regina, Sarah snapped wide eyes onto Emma. "Reopen? That toad said nothing about closing. He just said I had to clean up all this glass and cover that hole." Agitated, she gestured to the hole in the front display window.
"There are town safety ordinances that—," the sheriff started to explain but was rudely interrupted.
"Whatever," Sarah said in raspy exasperation, tossing her hands up in the air. "You mentioned helping. How are you going to help?" The question was punctuated with hands on hips.
Regina smirked as she cocked an eyebrow at Emma.
"Well," the sheriff said carefully while wondering what mood Sarah would manifest next, "Like I was trying to say, the Mayor—."
"She's the former mayor," the parlor owner snapped, tossing a haughty smirk at Regina. "The city council demanded she step down." Her mother was a council member—she would know.
Shaking her head, Emma shifted the cooler strap to her other shoulder. She really wanted to eat her sandwich. "Look, Ms. Frost, we just want to help, but if you're not going to cooperate, we'll be on our way." The sheriff turned toward the door, certain there'd be plenty of others happy for the help and who would give them less grief.
"Wait," Sarah sighed, realizing her mother wouldn't be pleased if she passed up free assistance. "How can you help?"
"Well, the Mayor would be willing to fix your store via magic." Emma smiled as she added, "If you ask nicely."
Raising both eyebrows, Regina graced the sheriff with an amused smirk before turning to Sarah. She didn't have to wait long for the ill-mannered shopkeeper to grudgingly mumble the request. She briefly toyed with refusing, but frustration was rolling off Emma in waves.
Without another word, the former mayor strode to the front of the store. Once again, she focused on the magic threads and could almost believe she actually saw them. The necessary buildup was faster this time as the required energy quickly gathered at her command. And with an elegant roll of her wrist, Sarah's Ice Cream was restored.
Immediately, Regina shoved her hands in her pockets and stepped towards the door.
Wordlessly, Emma pushed the door open for her. As the former mayor stepped out, Emma grinned, noticing the pieces of glass still littering the sidewalk. Over her shoulder, she ordered, "Don't forget to sweep up this glass on the sidewalk, Ms. Frost."
The ice cream parlor door slowly closed but not before an aggravated growl was heard.
Emma watched Sarah stomp to the back of the store. Facing Regina, she remarked, "You left that glass on the sidewalk on purpose."
Tilting her head, the former mayor innocently blinked and then flashed a wicked smile. She started to walk down the sidewalk. "She all but asked for it with her imperious attitude."
Shaking her head, the sheriff couldn't agree more and fell into step beside Regina.
After the first few stops, the entire process sped up tremendously. Obviously, the news spread down the shopkeeper grapevine rather quickly. It seemed, for the most part, that many were quite happy to accept the help. A few outright refused on principle or disdain for the former mayor, but most wanted to reopen as soon as possible and reclaim their lost profits. Money was money, after all.
There were questions, though, lots of curious, meticulous questions from almost every shopkeeper. Yes, they were working together for the safety of Storybrooke. No, Mayor Mills didn't kill Dr. Hopper. Yes, she did help stop the giant and save the sheriff's life. Yes, Anton really was a nice giant. The whole situation was a simple case of mistaken identity. Yes, the mayor would like very much to fix your damaged store. It was virtually the same conversation over and over again until they reached their last stop for the day, the dentist's office down the street from Granny's Diner.
"Like a magic consultant for the sheriff's department?" asked the mousey Stephen Doggle, proprietor of Storybrooke Dentistry. He looked back and forth between the two women. "You'll be partners like on one of those cop shows on TV? Like the Dresden Files?" Pausing, he smiled and amended, "More like Rizzoli and Isles, I imagine."
"Indeed," Regina smirked, slightly amused by Stephen's pop culture reference. Her attention was pulled away as Emma's cellphone rang.
"Excuse me," the sheriff said, stepping away from the receptionist's desk to take the call.
Stephen watched Emma move to the far corner of the empty waiting area. He briefly glanced over the former mayor, assessing. Leaning forward, he said, "The Chamber of Commerce has been pestering the city council for weeks about their special election for the new mayor."
"Really?" the former mayor questioned, tilting her head slightly.
"Oh yes," Stephen nodded, happy to share. "I haven't actually been to any of the meetings because they've all been behind closed doors for board members only, for whatever reason. But from what I've heard, Mr. Spencer has been pushing for his name to be added to the ballot."
"Interesting," Regina commented. The situation would undoubtedly require further research.
"That was the garage. The cruiser's ready," Emma said, cutting into the conversation. She looked between the dentist and former mayor.
Ignoring the sheriff, Stephen said, "Naturally, Ms. Ginger and Mrs. Frost have already added their names to the ballot." He paused for a brief moment then added, "Of course, Mr. Nolan has petitioned to be included, as well."
Regina lifted her chin as she scowled. It would appear that old world factions were vying for power in Storybrooke.
"The ballet for mayor?" Emma asked.
"It would appear so, Miss Swan," the former mayor replied as she turned and examined the broken door.
The dentist's office suffered minimal damage as compared to the other businesses. With a single wave of her hand, the door and other minor damages were restored to their original state. Regina nodded her farewell to Mr. Doggle and promptly headed out the door. And following the morning's pattern, the sheriff was on her heels.
Pushing down her rising irritation, Regina peeked at Emma from the corner of her eye. Thankfully, the sheriff had given up on her persistent desire for small talk and quietly walked, staring at the ground with pursed lips. However, before the former mayor could inquire what troubled the sheriff, Regina's eyes were quickly brought forward by a startled, high pitched "Oh!" and an all-too-close Mary Margaret Blanchard. Hadn't she suffered this peculiar incident enough during the curse?
"Oh," the school teacher said again, flatly, upon seeing Regina. Her eyes darted to her daughter, whom she greeted with a happy, "Emma!"
Regina rolled her eyes and sidestepped away from the impending nauseating conversation.
"What are you up to?" Mary Margaret smiled brightly at Emma while eyeing Regina with thinly veiled contempt.
"Just checking in with some of the more damaged businesses, seeing if there's any way we can help," the sheriff explained as she dropped the cooler on the sidewalk. "We saw you and Anton earlier."
"Oh, I was just introducing him to everyone," Mary Margaret said as she casually glanced at the cooler. "It went well, for the most part. There were quite a few people who were annoyed, but I don't think it's anything to worry over." Her eyes cut to Regina as she regally said, "The good people of Storybrooke know there were no hard feelings."
As her suspicions were further confirmed, Regina crossed her arms, unfazed. They had dealt with several of those vexed people, both pre and post Mary Margaret's visit and they'd gotten quite the ear full. Luckily, the magical repairs had placated those willing to accept the assistance. Regina hoped it would curry favor for Sheriff Swan because, as went the Savior, so did she.
"Yeah, the health and building inspectors made their rounds first thing this morning. It apparently put people in a mood," Emma supplied. She looked around and asked, "Where's Anton now?"
"He's somewhere with Grumpy. I think they really hit it off." Mary Margaret beamed.
Regina held her tongue.
"Maybe we can have lunch?" the school teacher asked hopefully, wanting to get Emma away from Regina and find out what was really going on between them.
"Thanks, but I think we'll pass." The sheriff bent over and picked up the cooler. "We packed lunch today, anyway." Emma flashed a cheeky smile as she patted the side of cooler. She was about to mention heading to pick up the cruiser but was cut off.
With furrowed brows, Mary Margaret asked, "How, exactly, have you been helping?" She glared at Regina.
Rolling her eyes, the former mayor sighed. "I'm not campaigning if that's what you're insinuating." She cocked an eyebrow at the school teacher's widening eyes.
Mary Margaret immediately schooled her features. "You're using magic!" she hissed. Glaring at her daughter, she continued, "You went along with this? Emma, magic is dangerous." Mary Margaret turned back to Regina and jeeringly said, "Especially in her hands."
"Don't project, Dear," the former mayor said. Her tone took on a distinct edge. "Your hypocrisy is showing. How quickly we've forgotten eliciting the Blue Fairy's assistance."
"You're traitorous, Regina." Mary Margaret said, invading Regina's personal space. "I know you're scheming something, and I'm going to find out what."
"You're welcome to try, Dear." A fire was lit inside the former mayor as she rose to the challenge.
"Alright," Emma said, lightly cupping Regina's elbow, gently guiding her away from Mary Margaret. "I'll call you later," she said to her mother from over her shoulder while they crossed the street. The sheriff sighed in relief as her mother entered Granny's Diner.
As they approached the other side of the street, Regina gradually slipped her elbow free from Emma's grasp. "You're going to have to tell your parents—sooner rather than later."
"I know." The sheriff sighed once again, walking side-by-side with the former mayor. "I just don't know how, yet."
The short half-block walk to Michael Tillman's garage was quiet and uneventful. Emma did catch a few curious glances from random Storybrooke citizens on their lunch breaks, but almost everyone avoided the pair. Putting the cooler on the trunk of the cruiser parked out front, the sheriff paused when the former mayor failed to immediately follow her inside the garage.
Ignoring the curious expression, Regina fell into step behind Emma, slowly increasing the distance between them. She ignored the snubbing from Mr. Tillman as he refused to acknowledge her presence. However, the former mayor refused to back down from his daughter's hateful glare from inside the enclosed customer area. Ava sat perched behind the service counter as if she were a princess. Slightly amused by this, Regina tilted her head and smirked. It was that slight change in angle that caused her to notice Nicholas.
The boy, not much older than Henry, sat slumped between two chairs along the front wall. He was doing something with his hands but stopped when he glanced up at Ava. Some words were exchanged, and Nicholas slowly stood to give whatever was in his hands to his sister. Dropping down onto the floor beside the counter, he sat with his back to the wall.
It was during Nickolas's movement that Regina saw the bruise peeking out from under the boy's too-big t-shirt collar. It was a large, sickly yellow bruise over the boy's left clavicle. The former mayor quelled her initial flash of anger as her eyes snapped back to Ava. Her gaze avidly searched the girl for evidence both for and against the implied notion of the injury. Children were prone to hurting themselves. However, the sudden switch from hate to shock in Ava's eyes only further fueled Regina's rising suspicions.
Emma and Michael were still talking when Regina turned toward them. The former mayor set her fiery gaze on the mechanic.
Quickly handing over the keys, Michael Tillman offered the sheriff a hurried goodbye and scurried to the back of his shop to bury his head under the hood of another car.
"Thanks, Michael," Emma called as she turned around, catching Ava watching the former mayor from the service desk. Wordlessly, the sheriff gestured for Regina to head towards the cruiser. She cut another look into the enclosed area and quickly studied the kids.
Ava watched Regina with trepidation. Emma frowned, believing that emotion was spurred from seeing the Evil Queen. Yet, when the girl finally met the sheriff's eyes, the look didn't go away. Emma's brow furrowed in confusion as Ava hopped off her perch and quickly tugged at Nicholas's t-shirt. It was then she caught sight of the bruise, as well.
Stopping at the entrance of the garage bay, the sheriff peered into the dark and listened as Michael worked on another car. She had read this family's story in Henry's book and had felt extremely good about reuniting them. But as she rubbed her forehead, Emma felt the onset of a headache. Something didn't quite add up, but given Regina's rigid, dragon-lady stance, now wasn't the time to get into it.
"Thank you again," Anton said, following Emma and Regina up the short walk to Widow Granger's front door.
Rolling her eyes, the former mayor glanced around the perfectly manicured lawn boasting thick, green grass and full, lush bushes. It was nearly impossible this time of year to have such a lovely yard. She briefly contemplated that perhaps Mary Margaret broke the giant's apparently fragile mind with the morning's vigorous shaming regimen. Maybe she'd give it a try, the whole killing with kindness tactic.
"It's really not a problem, Anton." The sheriff said with a friendly smile as she followed the former mayor up onto the porch. Standing next to Anton, she waited as Regina pressed the doorbell. "You don't need to keep thanking us. There's no guarantee she can even help."
"I realize that," the giant fumbled with his words slightly. "I'm just grateful to get a break from Leroy and his brothers. They really like to work a little too much."
With a sassy smirk, Regina tossed a wicked look over her shoulder at Emma who just rolled her eyes. Hearing the beautifully decorated wood and stained glass door open, the former mayor faced front, linked her hands in front of her and greeted Helena Granger.
"Right on time, Regina," the elderly widow said with a pronounced English accent and a warm smile. With platinum silver hair and clear, green eyes, Helena's once creamy skin was dusted with spots from years of sun exposure.
"As always," the former mayor said primly. "May I introduce Sheriff Swan and Mr. Anton."
"Anton is fine," the giant offered, smiling bashfully.
"Very nice to meet both of you," Helena said, releasing her hold on the door as she turned around and slowly shuffled across the small foyer towards the living room. She waved for them to follow her while using her other hand to tap the banister as she passed. "Do come in. I made us some tea."
Entering the modest-home-turned-terrarium of the herbalist Widow Granger, Emma Swan glanced around with wide eyes while taking off her coat. Plants were virtually everywhere with almost every surface donning a plant in some form or fashion. She followed the former mayor's lead and hung her jacket on a nearby coat rack.
"Thank you for seeing us on such short notice, Mrs. Granger," Regina said, slowly following behind the widow into the living room.
"I always have time for you, Regina." Helena smiled fondly. She bobbled slightly as she shuffled to sit down in a high-backed chair by the fireplace. "Now, why don't you serve us some tea, and you can tell me why you're here. You were most vague on the telephone." Absently, she gestured to the china tea service already on the coffee table. "Don't be bashful about the biscuits, dears. There's plenty more in the cupboard."
With her usual grace, Regina took a seat in the other chair flanking the fireplace. Emma and Anton glanced at each other as they sat on the ghastly, floral-print sofa under a large bay window that overlooked the front yard. If they stood up, they could actually see past the potted plants. As instructed, Regina proceeded with explaining the exact reason and nature of their visit while serving tea.
Nodding throughout the short story, Helena sipped her tea and nibbled on her biscuits. "Isn't this simply exciting?" she chortled, passing her empty cup back to Regina.
"Quite," the former mayor said, deadpan. Ignoring the sheriff's curious, covert stares, she returned the tea cup to the service.
"Does Mr. Gold know about the plant?" Helena asked, linking her hands across her lap.
"If he doesn't, he'll know in short order," Regina replied, casually sipping her own tea.
"I guess I shouldn't have told everyone in Granny's Diner about it," Anton admitted sadly.
With a dismissive wave of her hand, the widow sighed. "It doesn't matter, not really. He'd find out one way or another, just like Cora. That is, if she doesn't already know about it." Her face took on a sour look as she pursed her lips. "It's a bit of a pickle, isn't it? Well, let me see it." Helena leaned forward and held out her hand.
Shifting her tea cup to one hand, Regina proceeded to pull the vial out of an interior pocket in her blazer and placed it on Helena's palm. Emma had refused to carry it, and neither wanted to leave it at the house while they were away.
"It's in stasis," the herbalist huffed. She glared at the former mayor. "How am I supposed to evaluate the seedling's cultivating potential if it's in stasis?"
"The tube's clear," Emma supplied. As soon as the words left her mouth, her eyes widened as she realized her error. "Oh." She immediately pinned Regina with a hard glare and silently mouthed, "You could have told me!"
Helena snorted as if she saw the exchange. "Don't worry, Sheriff. It's not Regina's fault. I prefer that people aren't initially aware of my blindness. It keeps them from bumbling all about—usually annoyingly so—while trying to be absurdly helpful." She lifted the vial to her nose and took a good, long sniff. "At least the seal is stable. It should hold for another couple hundred years."
"If you're blind, why do you grow flowers?" Anton asked delicately, reaching for another cookie. This was so different from the meals with his brothers. These people actually had manners.
Smiling softly, Helena gently stroked a nearby fern. "I wasn't always blind. Since magic has returned, I'm no longer completely without sight—of a sort." She raised a small silver pendant on a matching box-chain necklace. "With this, I can perceive the brilliant colors of my plants."
"That's remarkable," Anton smiled. He glanced at Emma before continuing, "Does the glass prohibit your enchantment from working?"
"Not necessarily, however, I need to touch the roots. Only then will I be able to determine if the seedling can be transplanted and decide on the best mixture of soil to promote healthy growth." Helena fingered the vial. "The only way to do that is to open it."
"Then open it," the giant proclaimed.
"Wait, what if the plant won't grow here? Can it be put back in stasis?" Emma asked, looking between everyone. Her gaze eventually stayed on Regina.
Returning her cup to the service, the former mayor shook her head. "I could, but there might not be anything left to return to stasis."
"What do you mean?" Anton asked with slight worry.
"If I open this and the seedling instantly withers—which is quite possible—magic can't restore it." Helena absently caressed the vial. And as if she could hear the sheriff's thought, she said, "Not even the rejuvenating waters from Lake Nostos can bring back the dead."
"Open it and see," the giant said after a slow exhale. Turning to Emma, he added with a tentative smile, "If we don't take the chance, we'll never know."
"That's the spirit!" the herbalist praised while fumbling with the vial. She pulled and twisted on the thing several different ways as she attempted to dislodge the cork stopper. "Now, if I can only open the damnable thing."
Emma was about to offer aid when Regina simply shook her head. Suddenly there was a pop, and a small hiss was heard. Anton was rewarded with a brief rush of the sweet, earthy scent of his family's beloved legumes.
"Ah ha!" Helen exclaimed in triumph. She absently passed the empty vial to the former mayor. "It seems to be stable and quite healthy." Carefully, the herbalist went about her examination. A smile grew as she continued. "I think we can help this little fellow grow here in Storybrooke." Cupping the seedling in one hand, she slowly stood and started to shuffle out of the living room. "Come help me in the kitchen, Anton."
"Of course." The giant eagerly rose from his seat and followed the herbalist, answering questions along the way.
Pouring another cup of tea, Regina glanced at Emma as she added a few condiments. She listened to the boisterous conversation coming from the kitchen. It was mostly orders intermixed with many to-the-point questions, but Anton's easy manner and quick responses would certainly win Helena over.
The sheriff grabbed another cookie. She stuffed the whole thing in her mouth, ignoring the former mayor's disapproving look. Emma glanced at the grandfather clock and shifted uncomfortably. "So," she started and paused, "what's going to happen to the beans?"
Finishing her sip, Regina answered, staring straight ahead in contemplation, "I suppose that's for Anton to decide."
"Yeah," the sheriff frowned, looking back at the former mayor. "But what if someone tries to take them away from him?"
"In that case, Sheriff, I imagine you'll do the job you were elected to do." Regina turned her attention to Helena and Anton as they returned to their seats.
The giant proudly placed his freshly potted beanstalk seedling on the coffee table. With a smile, he said, "It should grow nicely here. Since we're not sure how long it'll take to mature and produce fruit, we'll have to tend to it very closely."
"How long do they typically take?" Emma asked as she bent forward and studied the plant.
"At home, it took a month to grow a crop, but that's in their natural environment." Anton shrugged his shoulders.
"If I had to guess," Helena interjected, leaning forward and delicately taking another cookie, "I would say the seedling will mature anywhere between two and four months, much like any other bean of this world. It greatly depends on a vast number of factors that I won't bore you with." She started nibbling on her cookie.
"Okay," the sheriff nodded. She leaned back and rubbed her hands over her thighs. "What about protection? Should we ask the Blue Fairy for help?"
Helena covered her mouth and laughed. Stopping long enough to swallow, she asked, "Why would you ask a fairy for help when you have a natural born caster at your disposal?"
Impassively sipping her tea, Regina said nothing. Helena always did like to overshare.
With an amused smirk, the herbalist resettled in her chair. "If anyone knows about the seedling, they won't be able to tell it apart from any other legumes in my greenhouse." She pointed at Emma, half of a cookie still in her hand. "That'll be the safest place for it until it fruits. Even then, it'll take someone significantly talented to detect them in their inert state."
Glancing between the former mayor and sheriff, Anton said, "Helena offered to hire me on to help with her plants and garden." He thought the offer was rather kind. At least he would feel useful here and not an oaf to be tolerated.
"Anton, would you mind introducing your seedling to the beans?" Helena asked kindly. "The greenhouse is just off the back porch."
"Certainly," the giant said as he stood, carefully lifting the small pot off the coffee table. He took a few steps toward the kitchen before stopping. Turning back to the sheriff, he said, "Thank you." Nodding toward Regina, he added, "Both of you."
When she heard the back door open and close, the herbalist held out an open palm in Regina's direction.
Setting her cup and saucer down, the former mayor pulled out a tight roll of bills. She ignored Emma's wide eyes as she quickly counted out the required notes and placed the cash in Helena's waiting hand.
"Nice doing business with you, Regina." The herbalist smiled as she counted her money. Pleased with the generous amount, Helena tucked the cash away long before Anton ever returned.
The remainder of the visit was filled with typical social pleasantries, mostly Anton asking questions about the various plants and flowers in Helena's home and greenhouses. At almost three o'clock, Emma decided they'd stayed long enough. The sheriff offered the giant a ride back to Granny's or downtown, but Anton politely declined, opting instead to visit longer with Widow Granger. The widow was quite pleased and quickly shooed her other guests out the door, all too happy to show her new friend (and helper) her gardens.
In silence, Emma and Regina rode to the police station. As mentioned earlier in the day, the sheriff wanted to check-in on David and take a peek at the paperwork pile before heading back to the former mayor's for a bit of Q&A and, hopefully, dinner.
"Are you alright?" Emma asked quietly as she opened the door into the building for the former mayor. "This shouldn't take too long," she added, noting how tired Regina appeared.
"I'm fine, just drained," the former mayor admitted, seeing no reason in denying it. The strain of the day was finally starting to wear on her, although it took much longer than she'd originally suspected.
Walking side-by-side, the pair rounded the corner into the main area of the station. Emma frowned as she glanced at the clock and stepped into her disorderly office. Draping her bulky jacket on the coat rack in the corner, she quickly dropped in her chair and started shuffling through the mess that was currently covering her desk. As she determined the degree of disorder in which David had apparently left everything, Emma started mumbling under her breath.
Every once in a while, she'd glance up and check on the former mayor who primly sat across from her in a visitor's chair, her coat draped across her lap. Sometimes, Regina would be watching her, others, she'd be staring off into space or looking around the office. However, the former mayor was unusually quiet.
Nearly thirty minutes after their arrival, Emma was done—or at least content with the state of her office. She slapped the newly organized papers in her desk, transferred the phones to the call service and stood up. "Ready?" she asked after stretching.
"Very," Regina stood while slipping on her coat. She stepped out of the office and waited for Emma to finish locking the glass door.
That was when David burst through the double doors down the hall. Awkwardly, he slowed to a stop before the two women and frowned, noticing that Emma had locked the Sheriff's office door.
Stuffing the keys back in her coat pocket, the sheriff spun around to her deputy. "Where have you been?" she asked, narrowing her eyes slightly. After all, there could be a good reason why the deputy wasn't at the station.
"I picked Henry up from school," David said, glancing briefly at Regina. "I just dropped him off with Mary Margaret," he explained, pausing for a moment before adding, "at home."
Unfazed, the former mayor refused to be baited by the shepherd. Obviously, Ms. Blanchard had disclosed their earlier conversation. How predictable.
"Why didn't Mary Margaret just bring him home?" Emma asked. Ever since they'd returned from the Enchanted Forest, she'd noticed the school teacher's lack of interest in doing her job. Didn't everyone still have to do their part? That's what Mary Margaret had told her while in the other land.
"She didn't go in today." The deputy's brow furrowed as he intently focused on his daughter and added, "She said she saw you today." His gaze cut back to Regina.
"Well if you're manning the station, then Mary Margaret can chauffeur Henry," the sheriff said, crossing her arms, not hiding her irritation. "When I ask you to cover the station, I expect you to actually be at the station, David."
Cocking an eyebrow, Regina's eyes widened slightly as she glanced between father and daughter. She hadn't expected this amount of opposition to remain prevalent amongst the family. No doubt, she'd likely be blamed for Emma's behavior at some point in the near future.
"Emma, Henry needs to be protected," David started, hoping to appeal to his daughter's protective instinct.
"I agree, and so does the rest of Storybrooke," Emma said, cutting the deputy off. Dropping her head, she sighed heavily while pushing her frustrations aside. She looked back up and saw David glaring at Regina, whilst the former mayor was curiously watching her. "We'll deal with Cora and Hook, but first we need to get our act together." Turning sharply, the sheriff pointed to the desk in front of the holding cells. "That's your desk." Pointing to the middle desk with a plushy red wolf on top of the computer monitor, she said, "That's Ruby's desk." Facing her deputy, Emma jabbed her thumb backwards over her shoulder, pointing at the Sheriff's Office. "That's my office."
Holding her gaze for a moment, David nodded, "Alright."
"Good," Emma said as she pursed her lips. "I already switched the phones to the call service, and Ruby's going to patrol tonight. We'll meet here at eight in the morning to discuss further scheduling issues."
"Okay," David nodded again.
Side-stepping around her deputy, the sheriff briskly headed for the exit. She was probably a little harsher than she had intended to be, but David just got under her skin so easily.
Quickly falling into step beside Emma, Regina looked over her shoulder, observing David's scowl as they left. Again, if she had only known the extent of discord in the Charming camp, she certainly would've done things differently.
END OF PART 1